by Emilie Rusch


Walking clubs replace coffee meetings

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For 242 days, Jonathon Stalls walked.
When he was done, he had traveled some 3,030 miles.

"I've never been in such peak health, obviously physically, but even more so mentally and emotionally, and even spiritually," Stalls said.

Stalls leads an early-morning walk, one of many free hour-long community walks that his growing social enterprise coordinates to help residents get moving and connecting on foot.

"Walking is almost as inherent to our design as eating. It's something we've done for as long as we've been around," Stalls said. 

"Walking is so basic it's never really seen as a real tool toward health and wellness."

The truth is, walking is one of the easiest, most affordable and accessible forms of exercise out there. Local meet-up groups are making it even easier to get started.

"There shouldn't be a single population that doesn't have access to a walking program," Stalls said. "It's easy, it can happen right from your front door, and it's free."

Ask Dr. Andrew Freeman agrees.
"Thirty minutes a day literally keeps the doctor away," Freeman said.

Walking briskly for at least 30 minutes a day has been shown to help reduce high blood pressure, lower cholesterol, improve bone density, lower stroke risk, reduce stress, slow memory loss, improve oxygenation and assist in smoking cessation, among other things.

"For 23 ½ hours a day, you can do whatever you like. For 30 minutes, walk hard," he said. "It's really a very small time commitment."

"Walking is for everyone," Freeman said. "If you take the elite athletes out, the vast majority lead a sedentary lifestyle."

To get the full benefits, from a physical standpoint, you need to pick up the pace beyond a casual stroll.

"If you can complete a sentence, you aren't walking fast enough," he said.

If you ask Stalls, taking it slower is fine, too, especially if you're just starting out or looking to reap some of walking's less physical and more emotional and social benefits.

"We're in it for the connection," said Rachel Hultin, the group's community program director.

A former distance runner, Hultin leads a lunchtime community walk, switching the route every week and the meet-up point every two months to keep things interesting.

Walking can be a great way to connect to people with different backgrounds, Hultin said, as well as slow down and notice what's around you, clear your mind and feel more grounded.

"There are a lot of people who feel disconnected or are dealing with issues of depression and isolation," she said. "This is a step toward feeling more connected and more well."

Maybe it's not every day, but once a week, try to walk to and from a destination within your circle, whether it's the grocery store, post office or neighborhood sandwich shop, Stalls said. Not only will it improve your personal wellness, but it will help your neighborhood, too, by making you more invested and connected to your surroundings.

"If we can start thinking through a 15-minute, 20-minute walking lens instead of just a two-minute drive, a five-minute drive, we can create more habit and practice around walking," Stalls said.

"This can be just as much a transforming and healing experience when you're walking to a practical destination within your neighborhood."

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