I once thought of walking as a quasi-form of exercise, a leisure activity disguised as fitness.
Surely, I reasoned, walking is not tough enough or intense enough to count as "real" exercise that makes an appreciable difference to anyone's health.
Then I graduated college and started gaining weight. Hmm. By then, however, I was smart enough to realize the correlation between those 30-minute walks to campus - that I was no longer making - and my overall health and weight. It was an enlightening epiphany.
Recent studies have further proven just how beneficial walking is to long-term health. Not only is walking a great elixir of a better life, it's terrific exercise and it's an activity that 99 percent of the population can do.
That's why a new program hosted by the Fox Valley Park District is so invigorating. The Park District has been selected by the National Recreation and Park Association (in conjunction with the AARP) to stage a 10-week walking program for those age 50 and older in a nationwide effort to "walk your community to better health."
The local contingent has already drawn interest from more than 50 walkers. They'll be known as The Golden Foxes Walking Club and they can't wait to start shuffling.
They'll head out for weekly walks at 10 different sites throughout the park district, with the first get-together scheduled for April 12 with an informational meeting; the walking officially begins at 9 a.m. April 13.
But they'll be doing even more than just walking and improving their health. On each walk, group members will perform an audit of the site and rate that stretch of trail to provide insight on what areas of the district are best for walking and how certain areas might become even better.
"We'll be exploring while we're exercising," said recreation supervisor Jennifer Huber, who will oversee the program.
"We have such beautiful trails in our District; this is a chance for walkers to see many of them and practice a healthy lifestyle at the same time."
According to the AARP, those 50 and older who walk just 30 minutes a day, five days a week, significantly reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, arthritis and some cancers. Additionally, walking regularly reduces both inflammation (leading to hardening of the arteries) and hemostasis (sluggish blood flow).
Pick a reason above - any reason - to start walking.
"I always hear comments by people who want to start a walking program but are afraid to go out by themselves or they're widowed or their spouse has difficulty getting around," said Huber. "This club provides safety in numbers, and the camaraderie that will develop creates added benefits."
The club is free to all those interested. Each participant receives an informational packet from the NRPA and a park district water bottle.
Those who complete the 10-week program from start to finish will receive a T-shirt, lapel pin and a certificate from the AARP.
"And once the 10-week program is over, the Golden Foxes will continue as a designated walking club that will meet on a weekly basis," said Huber.
The walking schedule and routes will be made available to all walkers and posted on the park district Web site (foxvalleyparkdistrict.org) when available. Those interested in participating can contact Huber at (630) 859-8606.
The path to vibrant health is the journey of a lifetime - one step at a time.
Jeff Long is the public relations manager for the Fox Valley Park District.