Walkin' with Ease in Apopka

Apopka, FL | May 2017 | By Robert Sargent

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Mary Hyland, just like millions of Americans struggling with arthritic symptoms, needed more physical activity to help cope with her arthritis. While she never considered joining a support group in the past, she discovered an enjoyable program being offered by the City of Apopka that encourages all people facing the same age-old challenge to get outside and walk.

The City of Apopka’s Walk with Ease program was funded with a $4,000 grant in February from the National Recreation and Park Association, the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Classes are developed by the Arthritis Foundation, bringing participants together to walk and learn how to comfortably reduce their pain and stiffness. 

Mary joined a group of other residents who had similar challenges with staying active through the pain of arthritis symptoms and flare ups. Certified instructors provided insightful information about the physical challenges experienced by older adults and during each class participants starting walking together, stretching together and strengthening their lower-body muscles together. Friendships formed and before we knew it, participants actually looked forward to exercising together.

“I think it’s a great program,” Mary said. “It gets me motivated, and it provides the discipline that I need to come out three times a week to walk.”

Classes started in April and were held three times a week for six-weeks by certified and trained city instructors. Altogether, Apopka had 20 participants walking from three different locations – double the walkers from the city’s first session earlier this year. Apopka also promoted walking to support fitness and recreation. 

“Everybody who showed up felt like they all had similar needs. They wanted to get out more and exercise, but they did not want to do it all alone,” said Apopka recreation manager Lorena Potter. 

Classes are ideally suited for anyone interested in preventing or managing arthritis while also looking for a regular, low-impact exercise program in their local community.  Apopka’s groups met three times a week at three different facilities around the city. Discussions were friendly and welcoming, allowing participants to share their personal experiences and to take part in lessons. 

Walks started easy and gradually moved to longer distances. Many participants enjoyed the comfortable pace without feeling pressure to keep up. The walks often were accompanied with cordial conversations and laughter as participants created close friendships. Even after the program ended, many walkers continue to get together for walks around Apopka. Many, like Mary Hyland, feel better with more activity. They also feel more optimistic about managing the effects of arthritis. 

“My group is still meeting to walk three times a week,” Potter said. 

Arthritis affects more than 52 million Americans. Nearly half of adults develop arthritic knee problems and one quarter develop arthritic hip problems by age 85. Nearly 23 percent of overweight adults and 31 percent of obese adults in America have been diagnosed with arthritis. Exercise and lifestyle changes, like participating in the Walk with Ease program, can play an important role in reducing arthritic pain and prevention. 

Mary, and many other Apopka residents, are hopeful that they will continue to hold more walking classes to get other residents involved and teach others the skills needed to control their arthritic pain.