Walking for fitness, fun and challenge

Marlene Griffin has always enjoyed walking, but the opportunity to travel pushed her to join a walking class to improve her endurance.

Griffin, 73, has participated in a walking class for older adults in Craig for more than two years.

Since then, she’s easily kept up with her son and family during trips to the Grand Canyon, and tackled many miles of walking in Hawaii with friends.

Her overall health is a testament to her fitness improvements.

“I feel quite well,” said Griffin, who also participates in strength classes at Wellness Wednesdays, an Aging Well program offered through the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.

“I don’t take any medicine at all, and my goal is to keep it that way.”

Whether taking daily walks around the block or an ambitious trek on a mountain road, walking accommodates a wide range of fitness levels and goals.

A convenient, safe and low-cost activity, walking bolsters muscle strength, balance, posture and other abilities we tend to lose with age. It’s also an ideal way for inactive older adults — who either have or are at risk for chronic conditions — to lose weight, lower blood pressure and become more fit.

Individuals 50 and older in Steamboat Springs have the opportunity to learn to walk toward better health or achieve additional walking benefits. The Aging Well program is offering several guided walking groups geared toward a variety of fitness goals.

Setting a pace

The social benefits of walking with a group can motivate individuals to begin walking and maintain a regular routine.

The Craig walking group, coordinated through Colorado Northwestern Community College, in addition to Aging Well exercise classes, has been an important social outlet for Griffin since her husband passed away.

“I could’ve sat at home all winter long,” she said. “I joined for the social part, but all the other stuff was a big bonus.”

The walking group meets twice per week, walking a total of about 3 miles, rain or shine.

Walking leader Tammy Workman makes sure participants get in about 20 to 30 minutes of cardio work during each walk.

Adults 65 and older should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, according to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

To avoid injury, inactive older adults should start slow, gradually increasing the duration and number of days they walk, as well as their pace.

Individuals with chronic conditions should always check with their doctors about appropriate exercise and only do as much activity as their abilities allow.

The advantage of walking in a class or group is that individuals of similar levels can stick together, Workman said.

Walking form is just as important as pace and distance. Workman keeps participants, whose ages range from 64 to 85, cognizant of their posture and tendency to not pick up their feet.

“I usually see that they are getting confidence in themselves … they are not shuffling anymore, their stride is better, their bodies are upright, and they can also keep a conversation instead of looking down,” she said.

Participants track their progress with pedometers, which measure distance and sometimes heart rate, number of calories burned and number of steps.

Stepping up challenge

Nordic- or pole-walking, which engages the upper body for a more vigorous workout, is a popular activity in Europe and gaining a foothold in the U.S.

The activity involves special poles sized to a person’s waistline and equipped with comfortable hand straps and removable rubber tips for pavement.

Nordic walking is a good alternative for walkers seeking more challenge. The Physical Activity Guidelines recommend active older adults aim for 300 minutes or more of moderate-intensity activity for additional health benefits.

Nordic walking burns up to 40 percent more calories than regular walking while reducing stress on joints, according to information at www.skiwalking.com, the Website for the American Nordic Walking System.

The poles, which are different than hiking poles, also encourage walkers to stay upright, improving their posture.

Nordic Walking, which simulates movements of cross-country skiing, can have a bit of a learning curve, so it’s important beginners learn the proper technique, said Marti Irish, a physical therapist, avid cross-country skier and Nordic walker.

Irish is leading a pole-walking class in Steamboat for the Aging Well program. The class includes warm-ups, stretches and other exercises in addition to walking, and is aimed at physically fit individuals.

The pole-walking class begins today and continues for four weeks. Aging Well also offers ongoing, guided walking groups on the Yampa River Core Trail.

These classes are geared toward participants interested in walking with others and learning techniques for optimum fitness benefits. For more information, call 970-871-7676.

Editor’s Note: This article originally was published May 4, 2009. Class information and other details have been updated for accuracy and timeliness.

This article includes information from www.swixnordicwalking.us.

Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at tmanzanares@nwcovna.org or 871-7676. Aging Well, a division of Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, is a community-based program of healthy aging for adults 50 and better. For more information or to view past articles, log onto www.agingwelltoday.com.

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