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Local agent working to improve health in Polk County

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healthy living

By Emily Banks Wooten
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(Editor’s Note: This is the third of a multi-part series exploring the variety of services offered by the Polk County Extension Office and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Program and the impactful contributions made through these programs.)

Polk County ranks among the least healthy counties in Texas, with 38% of residents considered obese with a BMI over 30 and 32% of residents reporting that they engage in no physical activity. Polk County Health Agent Deborah Alvarenga is making it her mission to improve those numbers through the implementation of healthy lifestyle programs developed by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.

Health Talk Express Healthy Heart Series and Walk Across Texas! are two programs available for adults. The Healthy Heart Series educates participants about how to control blood pressure and cholesterol as well as how to identify and respond quickly to symptoms of a stroke. Regular physical activity and controlling weight can significantly reduce the risk and impact of chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, hypertension and osteoporosis.

Alvarenga implemented both the Health Talk Express Healthy Heart Series and the Walk Across Texas! programs with faculty, staff and parents in the Goodrich Independent School District. Thirty people affiliated with Goodrich Elementary School participated in a series of heart health presentations that use a persuasive public speaking approach to empower participants to take action.

Fifty people participated in the eight-week best practice physical activity program designed to help Texans establish the habit of regular physical activity. Adult teams of up to eight members worked together to reach the 832-mile goal to make their way across the state of Texas. Through a team-based approach, participants engaged in friendly competition with other teams to see whose team could walk the most miles.

Additionally, Alvarenga presented a series of senior lunch and learns monthly at the Polk County Senior Center in which 214 people participated.

The results of Alvarenga’s efforts have been positive. One hundred percent of the Health Talk Express participants reported that they will use the new information that they learned to maintain a healthy cholesterol and 100% of them reported that they will be able to identify stroke symptoms. Ninety-six percent reported they will use the information that they learned to practice measuring, monitoring and maintaining a healthy blood pressure, that they will reduce the amount of saturated fat that they eat in their diets within the next three months and that they added more fresh produce to their diet after participating in the programs. Fifty adult participants walked a total of 7,350 miles or an average of 147 miles per person.

As for the future, Alvarenga said the programs will continue to be implemented at Goodrich ISD. Additionally, she said that in 2024, the Matter of Balance program, a program that focuses on gaining strength and building confidence to prevent falls, will be offered to older adults at the Polk County Senior Center.

For additional information, contact Alvarenga at 936-327-6828 or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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