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Aging well: Walking for fitness, fun and challenge

Tamera Manzanares

Volunteers needed

Are you an avid walker and enjoy sharing walks with others? The VNA's Aging Well program is seeking volunteers to lead groups of older adults on walks in Steamboat Springs and Hayden. Participants will be "beginners" or relatively new to exercise walking.

For more information about volunteering or participating in upcoming beginner or Nordic Walking classes (details are being finalized), call Jeanne Upbin at 871-7606.

Walking group in Craig

The Aging Well program and Colorado Northwestern Community College offer an ongoing walking class for older adults from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays in Craig. The class meets at Ridgeview Elementary School and is free to participants ages 62 and older. For more information, call Tammy Workman at 824-6932.

Marlene Griffin always has 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 a year.

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 also 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 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 and safe 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 ages 50 and older in Routt County soon will have the opportunity to learn to walk toward better health or achieve additional walking benefits. The Aging Well program is planning beginning- and advance-level classes in Steamboat Springs and possibly Hayden and South Routt County.

Setting a pace

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

The walking class, in addition to other 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 : I joined for the social part, but all the other stuff was a big bonus,” she said.

The walking group meets twice per week walking a total of about 2.5 to 3 miles. They walk rain or shine. On nice days, they walk outside in areas such as Loudy Simpson Park; they walk in Ridgeview Elementary School on not-so-nice days.

Instructor Tammy Workman makes sure they get in about 20 to 30 minutes of cardio work during each walk.

Adults ages 65 and older should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity (medium level of effort) physical activity each week, according to 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 always should 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 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.

They also have set a goal to walk Cedar Mountain, a four-mile trail outside Craig that includes steep and rocky sections.

“They really want to do it,” Workman said.

Stepping up challenge

Nordic 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 common activity among cross country skiers who want to maintain upper body strength and endurance in the off-season.

It’s also 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.

Ski Walking burns up to 40 percent more calories than regular walking while reducing stress on joints, according to information at http://www.skiwalking.com, the Web site 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 will facilitate a Nordic Walking class in Steamboat for the Aging Well program. The class, which will include warm ups, stretches and other exercises in addition to walking, will be aimed at physically fit individuals.

“I’ll challenge their brains with balance and agility exercises,” Irish said.

Trails in the Sanctuary and the lower portion of Howelsen Hill Ski Area are examples of trails the class will visit.

Details about Aging Well’s summer walking classes in Routt County still are being finalized. For more information about participating or helping as a volunteer, call 871-7606.

This article includes information from http://www.swixnordicwalking.us.

Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at tmanzanares@nwcovna.org or 871-7606. 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 http://www.agingwelltoday.com.


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