MARQUETTE - In stories, journeys always start with a first step. A journey toward improved health also often starts with a first step - a walking program.
"Just getting off the couch is the most important thing," said Barb Coleman, a certified exercise specialist and Northern Michigan University professor. "Doing something is better than nothing."
The Mining Journal's Healthy Weight Journal, partnering with the YMCA, Marquette General Hospital and the Marquette County ACHIEVE team, kicked off its 12-week community wellness challenge last week with a special walking program at the Superior Dome, in which 126 people participated.
Friends Diane DeMilio and Linda Bonetti, both of Marquette, walk during the Healthy Weight Journal kickoff event at the Superior Dome last week. The friends walk together several times a week. (Journal photo by Johanna Boyle)
Although the word "exercise" might be associated with running for miles or spending hours at the gym, walking can be the perfect way to ease into or maintain an active lifestyle.
"Marquette is just so full of wonderful places to walk," Coleman said.
Walking is a simple activity that only requires a pair of supportive shoes, Coleman said. Walking can be done inside, at a facility like the Superior Dome, on a treadmill, or outside on a street or trail.
Last week's program at the dome had staff from the YMCA to help take participants' pulses as part of a walking fitness test. In general, however, walkers should work up to being able to walk at a brisk pace while still being able to carry on a conversation, Coleman said.
A walking program typically starts at the participant's fitness level, allowing those who are new to physical activity to start at a less strenuous level than someone who already exercises regularly. And walking consistently can help improve cardiorespiratory fitness.
"Cardiorespiratory fitness is one of the most important aspects of fitness," Coleman said. "There is a ton of research showing that low cardiorespiratory fitness is related to poor health."
Walking with a friend can provide motivation to get up and out the door, knowing someone else is counting on you to be there, as well as companionship while you are actually walking.
Friends Diane DeMilio and Linda Bonetti, both of Marquette, walk together almost daily for an hour at a time.
"It helps the hour go by fast," Bonetti said of walking with a partner. "It's a stress reliever, too."
The pair usually walks along the bike path in Marquette, allowing them to walk near the lake, or inside the Superior Dome when the weather is bad.
"It's easy on your body and it's fun," Bonetti said.
Just like any type of exercise, Coleman advised walkers begin their walk with a warm up - usually a few minutes of slower walking - and a cool down. It's also OK to start with a short walk, maybe around 10 minutes or less, and then work up to longer walks from there.
"It's very much based on how you feel," Coleman said. "Never just stop because 'Oh, I couldn't go 10 minutes.'"
Walking is also an activity that entire families can do together, from kids up to grandparents.
"We're looking for this to be a lifestyle that is shared with those around you," Coleman said, adding that getting healthy shouldn't just be about one parent beating themselves up because he or she wants to lose weight. "Without the support of your family, it's very difficult."
Even if you can't convince your family to go out for a walk, Coleman said go anyway.
"Do it for yourself," she said.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401.