Exercise on the Fly

Start! Walking Program set to launch at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport August 21

The next time you have a layover between flights at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, don’t sit down and read a magazine, get your heart pumping and go for a walk.

A 1.4 mile walking path circling from Concourse C to G will soon be a key element of the Start! Walking Program, a partnership between the MSP airport and the American Heart Association.

“The overall goal is to promote physical activity as a major means of reducing death and disability from heart attack and stroke,†explains Heidi Guetzkow, Start! program director. “We want to get America walking!â€

Start! is the American Heart Association’s groundbreaking national campaign encouraging everyone to live longer, heart-healthy lives through walking. The program celebrates the health benefits of increased physical activity and provides people with resources to incorporate walking into their everyday routine..

The innovative partnership was the result of a meeting in the fall of 2006 between the Metropolitan Airport Commission (MAC) and the American Heart Association. Initially the meeting was about how employees could get involved in the Start! Walking Program.

MAC Wellness Director Leslie Johnson suggested taking the program one step further by using the airport as a “walking route†and promoting the route as a public health benefit, Guetzkow explains.

Soon a committee was formed including Northwest Airlines and MAC leaders. Both organizations enthusiastically embraced the Start! concept–for the health and well-being of 15,000 employees and the 100,000 travelers passing through the airport on a daily basis.

“The Start! Walking Program was an ideal fit for us because it’s something we could incorporate in many of our locations,†explains Rick Feltner, Northwest Airlines director of customer service and airport operations. “We are a global airline with employees in many locations, and we’re casting a wide net. We quickly realized that this is something our customers would enjoy and benefit from as well. By including the flying public in the program, we are promoting heart-healthy activities during downtime at the airport.â€

NWA employees will be encouraged to participate through filling out scorecards recording their mileage.

“Our plan is to give away small prizes to individuals and teams that participate. We want to create a healthy environment for our employees, and provide a fun atmosphere in which to work,†Feltner says. “We also want Minneapolis to be at the top of the list for travelers when considering which airport they’ll be flying through. If they’re able to plan on a structured 30-minute walking workout on their layover here, for example, this could quickly become their airport of preference.â€

The walking path will be mapped out and denoted on overhead signs with mile-markers every tenth of a mile. Route maps will be available. Eventually, the route will be listed on permanent wall directory maps. Brochures will provide tips on where to find health-conscious food options at airport restaurants and wellness-related retail offerings at airport shops so travelers can continue meeting their health goals while traveling.

Steve Wareham, MSP airport director, is optimistic about the success of the program.

“What I like about this program is that we’ve embraced our distances, which–on occasion–generate customer complaints,†he says. “We’re encouraging passengers to take advantage of this unique MSP characteristic by going for a walk, at a known distance and predictable timeframe. They can, without backtracking, see dozens of our shops, restaurants, features like our Children’s Play Area, and experience many airfield views. It’s a good way to spend time at MSP while flying through.â€

Guetzkow hopes the partnership inspires other airport locations across the country to offer healthy alternatives to sitting and waiting during layovers and flight delays.

A ten-day walking challenge for employees and travelers will be launched at the MSP Start! kick-off event Aug. 21.

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