Walking has been called America’s favorite exercise. It is easy, does not cost anything, and healthcare providers highly recommend it. But for all the great reasons we should go for a walk, there are just as many barriers that prevent us from becoming active. For many older adults with health conditions like arthritis, one of the biggest roadblocks is that they do not feel comfortable walking alone.
A grant from the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) gave us a solution to this roadblock. Through this grant, Southgate Recreation & Park District has been able to offer the Arthritis Foundation’s Walk With Ease (WWE) program to older adults in our community. The WWE program is a low-impact group-based walking program designed for people with arthritis, but anyone looking to incorporate physical activity into their lifestyle can participate, and it is especially great for older adults. The six-week program, which meets three times a week for an hour, includes more than just walking. It also includes time for stretching and cooling down exercises.
The program has also been a huge benefit to both instructors and participants. Our two fitness instructors, Paulette Douglas and Geno Torres, were trained to become certified WWE leaders. Paulette decided to become a walk leader because her personal experiences have shown her the value of staying active. “At 68, I have many of the same medical issues that people in the program have — so I can relate,” said Paulette. “And I haven’t been into fitness all my life, either.”
Paulette saw her parents die young. She used to take medication for high blood pressure and has been diagnosed with diabetes. In 1998, she was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer. When the cancer returned in 2002, Paulette knew it was time to live life differently. “I decided I had too much to live for, so I changed my life in 24 hours,” she said. “That’s when I started exercising, eating better, and eliminating negativity that caused stress. I teach 11 fitness classes a week now, all geared toward older adults, because I want to give people a fun way to live healthier and longer lives. And we do make the program fun for people. There’s no pressure to do more than people are comfortable doing. And there’s lots of talking and laughing.”
Geno and our Recreation Supervisor Sandra also share Paulette’s enthusiastic spirit, which was a large part of the reason the program’s first six-week session had 20 participants. The session earned high marks from all those who attended.
“They don’t push you. They let you do what you can do, and they make it fun,” said Sue, a WWE participant.
Sue was already walking regularly when she started the WWE program, but she especially appreciated the stretching and strengthening component of the program. “I used to get tired in the hip area when I walked for too long,” she said. “And the stretching has really made a difference.”
At age 86, Clo walks with a cane and appreciated the level of comfort the program offered her going at her own pace, taking breaks when she needed to rest, and having the support of people just like her. “The program is fun,” said Clo. “I like to keep moving and I enjoy being with the others — it’s the camaraderie that makes it fun.”
Fontella, who had no problem confessing that she’s the “life of the walks,” said the program was the best thing she’s done for herself in a long time. “I love it — and I need it. I have diabetes and arthritis, and I’m dealing with anxiety and depression. The walking helps me stay active and in shape, but it also clears my mind. Being with other people opens me up and keeps me motivated. And we have a ball!”
The WWE program has already proved its value to the people who have participated. Paulette is one of many who wants to see it continue because, as she knows all too well, “If you don’t use it, you’re going to lose it!”