Update: 1-2-3, march! Local seniors feel healthier and happier after committing to daily walks for exercise

Monday, June 7, 2010

The best thing Judy Poe learned from this year's "March into Heart Health" walking program is this: "You just have to put your mind to it and make sure you do it," she says. It's her first time participating in the community exercise program, which involved four educational meetings over a 10-week period. Nearly 70 walkers tested their blood pressure, body mass index, balance and flexibility at the first and last meetings, and learned about cholesterol and nutrition at the other two meetings.

Mollie Wright of Jackson keeps in shape by walking at West Park Mall. (Fred Lynch)

Poe, 64, of Cape Girardeau, used to walk five days a week at the mall but had to quit when she got heel spurs. With that problem treated and new motivation from the walking program, Poe has found that averaging 10,000 steps a day -- the recommended amount for good health and weight loss -- is not nearly as difficult as she thought. She walks outdoors with her dog three to four times a day and adds even more steps just by working in her house and yard.

"I like walking," says Poe. "It's one exercise I do not mind. It's one of the best, really, unless you have trouble with your knees. I like to be out in the open. I can just go out and daydream and enjoy the countryside. It's better than walking in the mall."

Poe says she has not lost weight since starting her walking routine but does feel healthier and more energetic. She plans to continue walking for regular exercise.

"I'm still trying to lose weight. I have to change my eating habits," she adds.

But Ilena Aslin, an AARP representative who has led the "March into Heart Health" program for eight years, says weight loss is not the only indicator of a successful exercise regimen. She has heard from most attendees that in addition to losing weight, they now feel better overall and sleep better at night. One woman has been walking five miles a day and hasn't lost weight, but her size has changed and her muscles are more toned, says Aslin.

She adds that the number of walkers this year has held up "amazingly." Most of the people who attended the first meeting continued with the remaining three meetings, and new walkers continued to join throughout the 10 weeks. Aslin plans to coordinate the program again next spring.

Veteran walker Mollie Wright has finished her fifth round through the "March into Heart Health" program. In addition to walking five days a week for 35 to 40 minutes, 77-year-old Wright goes polka or line dancing several times a month, participates in a weekly bowling league and is an avid camper. Her walking log book includes many days where she walked well over 17,000 steps.

"I already knew I was making a lot of steps," says Wright. "Sundays are my worst days because I sit at church and then come home and rest."

For Wright, walking is beneficial for her health as well as her social life. Several years ago, her doctor suggested she alternate fast and slow intervals of walking to lower her cholesterol, which she did successfully. Though Wright says she can't walk as fast as she used to, the habit of exercise has stuck, no doubt keeping her in better health. Wright also looks forward to her daily walks because she meets friends at the mall, where they walk, visit, and then sit down to visit some more.

"I like being around my friends, especially since I lost my husband," she says. "I just like being around people. If I didn't go, then I would miss them."

10 ways to get more steps

1. Go around the block each trip to the mailbox or walk around the outside aisles of the grocery store before shopping.

2. Meet a friend for lunch at a restaurant you can walk to.

3. Exit the bus several stops from your destination and walk the rest of the way.

4. Take a walk with your children or grandchildren instead of watching TV with them.

5. Pace the floor while talking on the phone.

6. Take the stairs instead of the elevator.

7. Circle around swap meets or craft shows several times before making your purchases.

8. Park far away from your destination and walk.

9. Walk into the bank or restaurant instead of using the drive-thru window.

10. Take a little walk while waiting for your doctor's appointments or a restaurant table.

(Source: AARP's "Step up to Better Health" participant guide)

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