James Hill and America on the Move


James Hill

LISTEN (5 Minutes)

Editor’s Note – This is an interview we did with CU Health Scientist Jim Hill in 2004, when he began a program he called, “America on the Move.”  You may recognize many aspects of this program, and see how they’ve evolved into programs such as “5th Gear.”

When physiologist Jim Hill studied American?s obesity epidemic, he was troubled by how many researchers focused on what causes Americans to be overweight.  He wanted solutions, so these days, he directs the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado?s Health Sciences Center.  And now, we?re going to talk . . . and walk, while he uses a counting device called a pedometer, which he clips on his belt.

Jim Hill says, “I never leave home without it.”

When I ask, “Let?s see!  Where is it?” he holds it in the palm of his hands, saying, “It’s right here.”

The pedometer looks like the face of a digital wristwatch.  Instead of tracking time, it counts the number of steps that whoever’s wearing it walks, runs, bicycles, tap dances . . . you name it.  Professor Hill calls his pedometer-based program, “On the Move.”  He suggests that newcomers start by adding an additional 2,000 steps to their daily routines.  As a veteran walker, his goal is higher.

He explains, “Now, you’ll see, this is a big number, because I accumulate steps for a week.  And so today is day six of my week.  And I go for 11,000 a day, so at the end of today, I should be at 66.”

I notice that he’s at 57,939.

“Right,” Jim says.  “So we need to have a nice long walk here, and I can collect some more steps.”

Most Americans are sedentary–they get little exercise, which may explain why the average American gains two pounds or more, every year.  As we stride down the tree-lined street, Professor Hill says weight gain is less likely when people exercise.  He says, “The blueprint for the body works best when we’re physically active.  It works worst when we’re sedentary.”

The body also works best when it has proper nutrition, and that’s a big part of the On The Move program. On the tally forms where people record their weekly step totals are reminders to eat fruits and vegetables.

The key to the program, however, is the steps. How many steps will Dr. Hill and I walk while we have a conversation?  We’ll find out soon, but first, let’s go out north of Denver, to see how the healthy steps program of On the Move is “getting its feet on the ground” in real-life locations.  In Colorado, On the Move has caught on at schools, businesses and community centers.
Betty Grauberger directs the program at a senior center in the rural town of Evans.  “We have a lot of people who tend to not like organized walks,” she says, “They like to go out on their own, and On The Move is a good program for them because they can record their mileage and they’re participating in a group.”

Ms. Grauberger says that she’s glad the program encourages exercise no matter what a person’s body size, and she cites herself as an example.  Laughing, she insists, “This chubby body you see in front of you really does walk at 5 AM in the treadmill.  You’d think I’d be a size 5, but I’m not.”  She adds that clipping a pedometer onto her skirt or belt helps her do more steps, and shaking her head in amazement, she observes, “One does not realize the amount of steps you take during the day.  You think, I’m not doing anything.  Y’know?  I’m walking to the kitchen or I’m walking to the store, or, I’m walking to whatever you happen to do, and you don’t pay any attention and then when you get home and take that off, you go, oh, my god! How many miles did I walk today?”

At the end of a day, Betty reports that it’s always a treat to take off the pedometer and count the steps.  The only hard part is remembering to clip the pedometer back on in the morning.

Ren Bedell has a solution for that, which comes from observing his own habits and successes.  He says, “What I kind of do to help with that is I’ll set it by my keys or my wallet, and that’s a good reminder.”

Ren is with Weld County Health.  He has monitored the more than 100 seniors who’ve participated in the center’s On the Move Program.  He says most DID remember their pedometers, and the tally forms they filled out show a positive result.

He observes, “Overall it looks like they are increasing their physical activity and they are saying that they’re eating more fruits and vegetables.”

As a public health expert, Mr. Bedell adds that On the Move programs often help participants avoid gaining that typical extra three pounds every year.  Ms. Grauberger says whether someone’s skinny or plump, people who exercise are healthier.

With great enthusiasm, she points out, “You can improve the quality of your life, just by walking a few more steps or doing a little more!”

That’s one example of how a Colorado group is improving health by getting people on the move.  Back in Denver, how many steps have I walked in conversation with Dr. Hill?  We’ll find out soon.  For now, I’m outside noticing how many people sit glumly in their cars, getting not a lick of exercise.  But I’m striding the sidewalks with Professor Hill, as we return from our walking conversation, refreshed, to his office.  He checks his pedometer.

“Let’s see,” he says, peering at the little counter.  “We were at what, 57-9, we?re now at 61-5.  2600 steps.  3600 steps!”

“Well, congratulations!” I reply.  “That’s a lot closer to your goal.”

“Absolutely,” Jim says, laughing.  “You’ve helped make my day and helped get me toward my goal.  And we had fun doing it.”

Jim Hill’s Colorado on the Move program has proven so popular, it has evolved into America on the Move, with more than 800,000 Americans now counting their steps.

This program has broadcast on KGNU Boulder/Denver and internationally on The Voice of America.