1-2-3, march! Local seniors are walking for heart health

Saturday, April 10, 2010
Mary Miller gets her blood pressure taken by Sandy Duncan during the first meeting of the "March into Heart Health" program at HealthPoint Plaza in Cape Girardeau on Thursday, March 11, 2010. Participants underwent screenings for blood pressure, body mass index, balance and flexibility, and received pedometers for use throughout the 10-week program. (KRISTIN EBERTS)

Cape Girardeau's seniors are excited about exercise. Nearly 70 people -- mostly seniors -- attended the kickoff meeting for the "March into Heart Health" walking program on March 11 at HealthPoint Plaza. Some were veteran walkers, while others were looking for motivation to get started. Most of them were already wearing their walking shoes.

"I need to take care of myself, take some weight off and exercise more. This sounded like a good incentive," said first-time participant Wanda Wyatt, 61, of Cape Girardeau. Wyatt has been exercising with a Nintendo Wii Fit system since Christmas, but felt she needed to establish a stronger exercise routine. She hopes the walking program will help her feel better overall and lead to a new lifestyle of physical fitness.

Sixty-four-year-old Judy Poe of Cape Girardeau, also a first-timer, is looking for a way to ease herself back into an exercise routine. She used to walk in the mall five days a week but stopped after developing heel spurs.

"I need the exercise. I've gained some weight," said Poe.

Mollie Wright, age 77, has been walking for more than 30 years and also enjoys dancing for exercise. She nets about 35 minutes of heart-pumping exercise five days a week. This is her fifth time through the "March Into Heart Health" program, but she says she learns something new every time.

"It gives me more energy. I feel strange if I don't walk," says Wright. "It just makes me feel better." She adds that walking is a great way to meet new and old friends.

"March into Heart Health" includes four group meetings over a 10-week period. The first meeting began with screenings for blood pressure, body mass index, and balance and flexibility.

"During the last session, we'll do it all again to see how walking every day for 10 weeks has helped," explained Ilena Aslin, an AARP representative who has coordinated the walking program for several years. "Has my blood pressure gone down? Have I lost a little weight? Is my blood sugar better? Have I seen improvement in my flexibility? That's what it's all about."

Each participant received a pedometer and log booklet to track their progress and share at future meetings. One mile is equal to about 2,000 steps; the goal is 10,000 steps per day, or about five miles. Aslin said every movement counts, and most people do more than they expect.

At age 83, Aslin has been walking for about 15 years and tries to walk two miles every day. She puts on her pedometer when she gets up in the morning and takes it off before she goes to bed at night. Most days, she walks more than 1,000 steps before she even leaves the house or goes for a walk.

"Once you start the program you can do it for a long time," she said. "I enjoy walking. It's my favorite exercise. It doesn't cost anything. You just have to find time to do it."

Aslin said walking has definitely helped her relieve stress and keep her weight and cholesterol levels down.

"Walking has done a lot for me," she said.

By the time the March 11 meeting began, the conference room at HealthPoint Plaza was filled wall to wall with eager walkers. Jack Hembree, operations director at HealthPoint, offered his advice on starting a new exercise routine and improving heart health.

"You always hear about your grandpa who would flip bacon grease over his eggs and smoke a pack a day," said Hembree. Maybe he lived a long time, said Hembree, but remember that "Grandpa did more work by breakfast than we do all day." Many diseases, especially heart and blood vessel diseases, are hypokinetic, meaning that they are caused by a lack of movement.

"Our bodies are designed to be active. You will look and feel better if you are active than if you aren't active," said Hembree. He explained that people who are less active have less energy, which makes them even less active, which makes them feel even worse -- it's a vicious cycle that leads to health issues like obesity, diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.

Hembree suggested exercising at least five days a week, but aiming to be active every single day. Walking, swimming, lifting weights, biking, climbing stairs, running and aerobics classes are all great for cardiovascular exercise.

Trisha Compe, health educator at the Wellness Connection, recommends an hour of exercise seven days a week; people ages 65 and up should get at least 30 minutes a day five times a week. Strength training should be done twice a week for healthy bones and muscles.

"The heart is a muscle, and any exercise will make that muscle stronger," said Compe.

"March Into Heart Health" is a free program sponsored by Southeast Missouri Hospital, Saint Francis Medical Center, Southeast Missouri Area Agency on Aging, the University of Missouri Extension, AARP, Cross Trails Medical Center and the Regional Arthritis Center. According to Aslin, 76 individuals are signed up this year, including 16 who are participating through walking teams at the Agency on Aging, Retired Senior Volunteer Program and Life Care Centers of Cape Girardeau.

The next two meetings, set for 10 a.m. on April 1 and April 22 at Saint Francis' Fitness Plus, will focus on cholesterol and nutrition. At the last meeting, set for 10 a.m. on May 13 at HealthPoint, walkers will learn about exercise, strength training and flexibility, and will be screened again for blood pressure, body mass index, and balance and flexibility.

For more information or to register for the program, call the Agency on Aging at 335-3331. "March Into Heart Health" is open to people of all ages and they may join at anytime.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: