PLATTSBURGH Faculty and staff at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh are taking steps to improve their health and lower their risk of heart disease. SUNY Plattsburgh employees have begun their participation in a month-long initiative to walk as much as possible as part of the Start! Walking Program, sponsored by the American Heart Association. A group of more than 50 came together for a kick-off celebration at the universitys Angell College Center April 1, much to the delight of Faith Osborne Long. This is great, Long said of the turnout. Ms. Long, who serves as regional director of the American Heart Association, gave the participants an overview of the program, which is described as a national campaign that calls on all Americans and their employers to create a culture of physical activity and health to live longer, heart-healthier lives through walking. Walking is the perfect exercise for people who are wanting to make have a healthier body without making a major commitment like joining a gym. On average, people need to walk as little as 20-30 minutes a day, and they will soon see a difference, she said. Walking is something you can do any time, said Long. Its the exercise with the lowest drop-out rate. Most of us can take 20 or 30 minutes out of our busy day to make a great positive change in our health. That is what the American Heart Association is trying to do with the Start! program, she added. The only real commitment people must make is the decision whether or not they want to do something to better themselves. The decision to start walking can lead to a person being at less risk for coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes, as well as reducing cholesterol, blood pressure and body fat. It also enhances your mental well-being, she added. Cynthia Fregeau, SUNY Plattsburgh Human Resources assistant, said the university decided to partner with the American Heart Association to further previous efforts to get people walking. We had partnered before with the [Clinton County Health Department] one day last year to encourage people to walk. We even gave out free pedometers, said Fregeau. A lot of people told us they wished wed kept up with the program beyond a one-day event. When Faith approached us about a month-long program, we thought this would be a good opportunity. SUNY Plattsburgh President Dr. John C. Ettling later read a proclamation during the program declaring April SUNY Start! Walking Month. The president then led the group on a walk across campus as a means to get them started on the path to better health. During the month of April, the universitys Human Resources office will also offer a host of health and wellness forums for employees. The program will conclude with a celebration for participants May 1. Hopefully, a month will be enough for people to have developed a good habit of walking and theyll continue on, said Fregeau.