Cerebral Palsy fundraiser spotlights Kiwi exercise habits – and the health benefits of walking.

Kiwis don't exercise as much as they should - but because they are too busy, not because they are lazy.

Leading New Zealand fitness consultant Lee-Anne Wann says people have become so busy they have forgotten the power and value of simple acts of movement like walking, stepping and doing chores around the home.

"It's quicker to send an email than to get up and see someone in the office," she says, "and it's easier to take the lift than walk the stairs. We are ignoring all the stuff we think is too small to make a difference and the price we risk paying is our health."

Wann, a former presenter of the television weight and diet series Downsize Me and now nutritionist with the Vodafone Warriors, was speaking in her role as ambassador for Steptember 2017, a charity event encouraging people to take 10,000 steps a day in support of cerebral palsy.


The campaign, organised by The Cerebral Palsy Society New Zealand in partnership with the Cerebral Palsy Alliance in Australia, is about to launch. It runs from September 4 to October 1 and is aiming to raise more than $1m to help many of the 7000 New Zealanders living with the debilitating condition.

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Those taking part will form teams of four with the goal of completing 10,000 steps every day for 28 days. Money is raised through individual sponsorship from family, friends and colleagues.

The campaign has put the focus on New Zealand exercise habits. Ministry of Health statistics show only half of all adults exercise for 30 minutes or more five days a week, while a recent Stanford University study in the United States claims New Zealand is one of the world's laziest countries when it comes to walking.

The university's Activity Inequality Project charted the average daily steps taken by people in 46 countries with New Zealand coming in 35th. It found the average Kiwi walks 4582 steps daily, with Kiwi women taking 850 fewer steps than their male counterparts; factors it says contribute to the incidence of chronic disease like obesity (over 1 million adult New Zealanders are considered obese).

But Wann says this is not because Kiwis are lazy: "We are time poor. People are coping with work, children, the home, shopping and it becomes easier to have someone deliver the groceries, to get a cleaner in or park the car as close to your destination as possible.

"Figures show office workers in New Zealand average about 3000 steps a day, with most driving to work and sitting at a desk," she says. "But taking five minutes in the middle of the day to get up and walk around can have a profound impact on health.

"We need to get back to the basics and a common sense approach; people look at the big solutions like going to the gym - but only three per cent of Kiwis use a gym - when it is the little things that are often as beneficial."

Wann says the Steptember campaign is as much about the health benefits for those taking part as it is for people living with cerebral palsy.

"It is a win, win. If people can hit 10,000 steps a day, that's great, but the real aim is to up the game," she says. "If you can do 2000 steps a day, look at lifting to 5000 - this will definitely have massive health benefits."

Wann says the hardest part is getting started. But if people can stick with it for two or three weeks it can become a habit they want to continue.

Shelly Reilly, national manager for Steptember, says the campaign is not just about walking to better health: "People can run, cycle, swim or even dance their way to a daily step target; there are 40 activities to choose from including some suitable for people with disabilities."

Reilly says people can take part in teams of four made up of family, friends, colleagues at work or schools. Once registered, ($25 for adults, $10 for children) participants receive a Steptember kit in the post which includes a pedometer to track their steps online.

Steptember is being run in nine countries. Last year 10,000 Kiwis took part (raising over $700,000) and Reilly is hoping to double the number in 2017.

Gilli Sinclair, CEO of The Cerebral Palsy Society New Zealand says cerebral palsy is the most common physical disability for children. Around 7000 have the condition and on average one child is born with it every two days.

Sinclair says the money raised is used to fund support services the society offers to its members and to develop innovative programmes to improve outcomes for those living with cerebral palsy as they reach adulthood.

Cerebral palsy is an umbrella term to describe disorders caused by damage to the brain and which lead to muscle weakness and poor muscle tone. There is no known cure and no single known cause although experts believe it may develop during foetal development, childbirth, shortly after birth or in infancy.

For more information and to register for Steptember go to: www.steptember.org.nz