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Rural people increasingly look for places to exercise

Tiffany Coyne goes for a run at the TLC fitness center in Webster Dec. 4. Those with memberships have 24/7 access at TLC. (Amanda Fanger/Reporter & Farmer)

By Heidi Martilla-Losure

Dakotafire Media

Rural living allows plenty of space for exercise. But when it’s getting dark at 5 p.m., the wind is blowing, and the temperature stubbornly hangs onto a minus sign, the motivation of even the most dedicated outdoor exercise enthusiast can wane.

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Many area communities now offer an option that until a few years ago was only available in larger communities: a place to exercise, with specialized machines and sometimes classes available — and with no hats or long underwear required.

“In rural South Dakota, on days like today (Dec. 4, a day of snow and wind), how else do we exercise?” asks physical therapy assistant Connie Bacon of TLC Fitness Center in Webster. “A 24/7 fitness center provides a safe place to do that.”

Webster was one of the first communities in the area to have a fitness center, with a circuit fitness area set up in the office of Kresge Family Chiropractic Clinic in 1996. TLC opened in 1998.

Many other communities have opened fitness centers in the past decade, including Britton and Bristol in 2004; Frederick in 2007; Ipswich in 2009; Eden, Roslyn and Faulkton in 2010; Veblen in 2011 and Kulm, N.D., this year.

Fitness center employees and organizers say more fitness centers are now open in rural communities in part because individuals increasingly recognize the role of exercise in maintaining good health.

“I think the current generation is seeing more and more how important it is to stay active,” said Austin Sasker, manager of Marshall County Healthcare Wellness Center in Britton. “They have learned from past generations that if you are not out and moving, the later years of your life are going to be more difficult.”

Another factor is the recognition that rural living is no longer as active as it used to be.

Thea Loy Pallansch, a physical therapist with TLC Fitness, said years ago high school football teams were hired by farmers to pick rock and stack square bales — and even further back, people plowed fields with horses, walking in the freshly turned soil all day.

“Those are aerobics exercises. It was all muscle work,” she said, adding that machines now provide the muscle.

Technology has made life easier, but it also means that staying fit requires more of a concerted effort than it has in previous generations.

Statistics suggest many rural Dakotans should be making more of an effort.

The 2010 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, for example, found that North Dakotans in rural areas were more likely to be overweight or obese (65.7 percent) compared to those in metro areas (59.2 percent).

Males living in rural areas between the ages of 40 and 84 were found to be particularly at risk: Nearly three out of four men in that category were overweight or obese.

Krege said increasing obesity rates were part of the reason he set up the exercise circuit, a 30-minute workout that includes both cardiovascular and strength components, in his chiropractic office.

“People are not getting healthier,” he said of the statistics.

Many of the fitness centers started with significant support from the community, and in many cases, partnership with a hospital or school was essential to getting the center off the ground.

The wellness center in Britton is attached to the Marshall County Healthcare Center, which means some of its expenses are shared with the health care center’s expenses. The community also strongly supported the effort: A fund drive took in $1.6 million.

With reporting by Amanda Fanger, (Webster) Reporter & Farmer; Garrick Moritz, Faulk County Record; Doug Card, Britton Journal; and Laura Ptacek, Ipswich Tribune.