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COVID-19: DHSS Insights

Healthy Futures offers challenge and new friendly competition to keep us all moving — even while hunkering down / Play Every Day blog

This post was originally featured in the Play Every Day blog and developed in partnership with the department's COVID-19 response team.

APRIL 3, 2020 - A month ago, we had predictable schedules. The parents headed to work at 8 a.m., checking their calendars for meetings and deadlines. The children caught the bus or a ride to school right around the same time. Every hour, they knew what subject was coming next: math, science, language arts, physical education. 

And now all that’s turned upside down. 

We’re trying to add routines back to our days at a time when nothing feels routine. Our partner in physical activity, the nonprofit Healthy Futures program, has come out strong with two ways to keep activity top of mind every day. One is to continue the Healthy Futures Challenge through participating elementary schools, in whatever way that works for the teachers and students at each school. The other is a statewide virtual physical activity competition that usually launches in May, but jump-started in April to help Alaska youth and adults stay active right now. This year, Healthy Futures is running “100 Miles in April” and you can still sign up online

Harlow Robinson, executive director of Healthy Futures and the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame, stressed that 100 Miles in April is open to youth and adults of all abilities, and it’s not just for people who consider themselves athletes. It’s about staying motivated to move right now and keeping in touch online with others who are doing the same. 

Families can form a team with their household members, their extended family, or with friends or coworkers to stay connected. When team members do any activity — running, hiking, walking, biking or anything else — they record the activity on the online platform. The goal is to complete 100 miles of activity individually by the end of April. More than 150 teams with almost 2,000 participating individuals, including many high school students, had signed up by early April, Robinson said. 

“I think in a time like this — when we’re all scrambling to adapt and figure out our new normal — that it’s really important to implement routines in our life,” Robinson said. One of those important routines is daily physical activity, which leads to better physical health and helps you feel better by reducing stress and anxiety.

One participating team captain is Ava Earl, well-known Girdwood musician and South High School runner. She was excited for track — her favorite sport — to start after spring break, but then her season and everyone else’s got canceled when schools closed.

“That was pretty disappointing,” said Earl, a junior. Then she heard about 100 Miles in April and began reaching out to others to build a team. 

“I thought I was definitely not the only one who was bummed not to be able to race track, so I thought this was an awesome idea,” Earl said. 

She was able to rally 25 other high school runners and some of their moms, including her own. This challenge is about being active and staying connected virtually, but it’s also a competition. Some participants like Earl are having fun with that. Her team name? “Ava’s Domination Squad.”  

Here’s how both of these challenges will run this spring.

Healthy Futures Challenge 

In February, more than 130 elementary schools across Alaska began the free Healthy Futures Challenge. In a typical year, the challenge works like this: Students keep a log of their daily physical activity with the goal of being active at least 60 minutes a day for 15 days each month. After completing the printed logs, students turn them in to their teachers for prizes.

When schools closed in March and that closure extended through May 1, Healthy Futures faced some unusual hurdles: Kids were still filling out the March and April logs, but they wouldn’t be going to school during that time to return the print copies to their teachers. During a typical challenge, teachers keep track of the total number of participating students, and then Healthy Futures staff mail the teachers prizes to give to those students at school. That model would no longer work while school was closed. 

Robinson said the Healthy Futures Challenge will continue through the end of April, and he plans to reach out to all participating teachers to provide help. If possible, he’s encouraging participating schools to continue the challenge because the log is one more option for maintaining movement right now.

“It gives kids structure at home and keeps them active,” he said.

Teachers will be able to figure out what works best for their schools and students in terms of collecting completed logs for March and April. To make that easier, students can take photographs of their completed logs and send them to their teachers, Robinson said. Healthy Futures also will send PDF versions of the log form to teachers so they can share that option with families. There’s also a fillable form for kids to track their activity online and then email it in later. Robinson said delivering prizes to the schools remains a challenge that he’s trying to figure out. In the meantime, he encourages teachers to keep cheering on kids who track their activity.

100 Miles in April … and Later May

Robinson said the special 100 Miles in April competition honors staying socially connected while remaining physically distanced. Here’s how: You can sign up as a team — family, friends, coworkers or a former sports team that can no longer compete in person. You stay social with your team by keeping in touch through phone or online about your challenge to complete 100 miles of activity in April. When it comes to doing the activity you choose, however, you do it alone or with your family to honor the requirement to stay at least 6 feet away from non-family members right now. 

Remember that you can still sign up for the April challenge online, and there will be Healthy Futures T-shirts and hoodies as prizes. Healthy Futures plans to reset the competition on May 1 and start 100 Miles in May for those who want to continue. These challenges are typically fundraisers for the nonprofit organization. Pledge donations are still accepted, but Robinson said the focus is more on motivating people to keep moving at a challenging time.

“This year — because of everything happening — this is a great resource we can provide to the community,” he said. “Pledging is an option this year, but sitting around while you hunker down is not.”

Earl said her goal is to run 5 miles a day during the 100 miles challenge. She said she can run along the trails in Girdwood and still keep distance from others. When they pass, runners move off to the sides of the trails, she said.

“It’s a good part of my day to just go out and enjoy,” Earl said. “A bonus is I get to spend more time exercising with my family, which I would not be doing otherwise.”

Follow the Healthy Futures program and Play Every Day campaign​ on Facebook as they continue to post ways to stay active and healthy during this challenging time. 

Photograph of Harlow Robinson, Healthy Futures executive director, hiking with his sons in Alaska. Photograph courtesy of Harlow Robinson.