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Park farther away, get healthy

The farthest parking spot just became the crème de la crème of parking.

Instead of seeking out the closest parking spot, Salt Lake County and Intermountain Healthcare kicked off a new program encouraging people to "park farther" and walk a little bit more each day for health.

Four parking spots at the farthest point of the Steiner Aquatic Center were painted Tuesday, adding to several locations throughout Utah where painted parking spots encourage people to park farther away.

"Parking out here and walking will probably save time and possibly earn people a reward," said Tamara Lewis, IHC medical director of community health and prevention. "It won't be a large amount of calories, but it helps people who are always driving. The big difference is getting your heart rate up."

Several IHC medical centers, certain Smith's Food and Drug stores, and sports and recreation centers throughout Salt Lake Valley, Davis County and southern Utah opened new parking spots recently. IHC communications personnel plan to randomly visit the spots and give out prizes including iPods, iTunes gift cards and gift certificates for fruits and vegetables to people deciding to walk the extra distance.

"It's sort of ironic we have it here at the recreation center, where in the past people have parked illegally just to avoid walking too far," said Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon.

County officials hope the few extra feet will encourage people to walk more wherever they park and stimulate physical activity.

Adult obesity rates in Utah have reached 22 percent, and 23 percent of children are overweight or obese, a contributing factor to poor health and decreased quality of life.

"Just 30 minutes of physical activity helps make people heart healthy, an hour a day for losing weight," Lewis said. "You don't have to do that whole hour at one time. A brisk walk in the evening makes a difference."

The program plans to designate additional parking spots in St. George in the next few months.

e-mail: lgroves@desnews.com