SALEM, Ore. – Nancy Henry used to hike, fish and train hunting dogs. Then she lost her husband and found herself choosing a more sedentary life.
“I went into a hidey-hole,” said the 65-year-old. After breaking her leg, she became even more inactive.
When she heard about the Walk With Ease program administered by Oregon State University’s Extension Service, she knew it was time to get going again.
“I signed up in a heartbeat,” Henry said.
A dozen women, including her 88-year-old mother, Billie Bell, joined Henry this spring at Salem Hospital for the exercise class led by Kelsey Evers, health educator for the hospital who is certified by Extension to teach the class.
Walk With Ease, developed by the Arthritis Foundation and funded by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is designed to help some of the estimated 52.5 million Americans with arthritis. Since 2013, nearly 1,300 people have participated in 117 series of classes in Oregon, according to coordinator Katie Conte. The program, which started in seven Oregon counties, expanded this year to all 36. Extension works with local organizations and volunteers to offer the classes at hospitals, workplaces, prisons, churches, as well as community, tribal and senior centers.
Three-quarters of participants have arthritis, said Conte, who works in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences. Sharron Palafox, who also suffers from diabetes, migraines and high blood pressure, is one of them. She’s on her third class and said she’ll come back for a fourth with her friend Keven Cauley.
Cauley, who had lung cancer four years ago, nodded. “We can’t do what we used to do, but we can pace ourselves differently and keep going. This class really helps.”
Walk With Ease is part of Extension’s Family and Community Health program, affiliated with the College of Public Health and Human Sciences. In Salem, it’s conducted twice a week for nine weeks, but in other areas participants meet three times a week for six. Those who can’t make it to classes have the option of doing the activities on a self-guided basis. Any Oregon resident can order the guidebook in English or Spanish at no cost from their local Extension office or online.
Evers, who is teaching her fourth class, said one of the benefits of Walk With Ease is the friendships that develop, and the support that comes with group activity.
“I’ve had some really good success stories from the class,” Evers said. “We’ve had people go from being very inactive to now walking frequently on their own. The class makes participants feel safe while walking and encourages them to keep going.”
To help facilitate the feeling of safety, Evers splits the participants into two self-paced groups so that no one feels pressured to go longer or faster than they feel they can walk. Activity ranges from 10 to 35 minutes, indoors or out, depending on weather.
Participants, who needn’t have arthritis to join up, receive a guidebook that includes a walking diary, non-obligatory tests, worksheets and tips. Each week, Evers starts with an education component. Recently, the lesson was on frequency and intensity of exercise.
“Try to walk 30 minutes five times a week,” she told the group. “That doesn’t have to be all at once. You can park farther away from the grocery store or walk in place while you’re watching TV. And if you don’t want to walk, do what feels good to you. Maybe swimming or tai chi because they are low impact.”
Evers reminded the class to keep their exercise diary to help keep them on track. Research shows people are more likely to exercise if they write it down.
“Yes, I write a book of fiction every year,” laughed Henry.
When it came time to do their strengthening and stretching exercises, the women groaned. But within minutes, some, including Bell, were touching their ankles. Then it was time to walk. No one groaned at that.
“I used to be a fast walker,” said Bell, “but, golly, with age, I stopped doing it. Now I’m back into it.”
Upcoming classes are scheduled to take place in Bend, Salem, Corvallis, Molalla and Woodburn. Check the Walk With Ease website for more information.