Virtual marathon program gets Tennessee residents moving
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw remote learning and working from home become common for many, University of Tennessee Extension educators in Henry County wanted to encourage physical exercise and address mental health among residents. Henry County ranks 47 out of 95 counties for overall health outcomes, including adult obesity (34%), child obesity (42.7%) and smoking (23%). Additional social, economic and physical environmental factors contribute to the health problems of residents, including physical inactivity (34%), children in poverty (29.4%), limited access to healthy foods (12%) and eligibility for free- or reduced-lunch (56%). The county has the third-highest death rate in Tennessee, with the fourth highest stroke death rate.
During the months of pandemic quarantine in 2020, many people were homebound, stressed and anxious. Research shows that exercise reduces stress and increases dopamine, which help with mental health. To ease these burdens, Extension educators dedicated May as May Marathon Month in the county. More than 200 participants, both youths and adults, began walking and running, while encouraging each other through a Facebook group where they posted photos, exercise quotes, and general encouragement.
Of the 106 reporting participants, 23% completed a full marathon, 8% completed a half marathon, and 70% completed more than a marathon, totaling 4,936.64 miles. Fifty-seven percent reported reduced stress, 32% reported improved sleep, 60% reported improved health, 63% reported becoming more physically active, 31% reported losing weight, 70% stated that the challenge helped them be or become motivated during COVID-19 and 100% indicated that they enjoyed the challenge and would like to do another one.