“We want them to take a look at how they were eating and improve their diet as well as to maintain an active lifestyle."

LAKELAND — Ten church congregations and individuals from throughout the community responded when Lakeland Regional Health offered to organize a free fitness challenge, assisted by the Lakeland Family YMCA.

Throughout January, February and March, the 174 individuals who registered were invited to participate in events aimed at helping them improve their health. There were walks around Lake Hollingsworth, yoga at the YMCA, a Zumba class at a church, and a Stop the Bleed class — in all, 21 educational and fitness events over 12 weeks.

The FitChurch Challenge started Jan. 3 and ended March 24 with free and confidential screenings of weight, blood pressure and sugar levels. In between, there were two other screening sessions.

“We saw so much success, so many inspiring stories,” said Lauren Parkes-Springfield, manager of community outreach for Lakeland Regional Health.

One middle-aged man started the challenge with a blood-glucose level of 308 and brought that down to 145 on his final reading. Recommended levels are in the 80 to 130 range before meals, going up to 180 one-to-two hours after meals, according to a news release from Lakeland Regional Health.

The biggest weight loss over the 12-week program was 26 pounds.

Two participants attended all 21 events: Dorothy Trogolo of College Heights United Methodist and Dolores Shaw of New Mount Zion Missionary Baptist.

Trinity Christian Center accumulated the most points for participation at educational sessions and fitness events and overall weight loss, followed by First Baptist Church of Imperial Lakes and College Heights United Methodist Church.

Collectively, the participants lost more than 300 pounds, Parkes-Springfield said.

“We want them to take a look at how they were eating and improve their diet as well as to maintain an active lifestyle,” Parkes-Springfield said.

Lakeland Regional plans to organize a FitChurch Challenge again next winter, with registration opening in November, she said.

Marilyn Meyer can be reached at marilyn.meyer@theledger.com or 863-802-7558. Follow her on Twitter @marilyn_ledger.