Walking an all-around benefit for body

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— "I used to be a jogger but had bad knees, so I decided that I needed to switch gears and find an exercise program that worked for me," Barry Traverse said. The 44-year-old summer resident of Steamboat Springs started walking last summer with Yampa Valley Medical Center's walking program.

At the start of the summer, Barry trekked up Mount Werner from the base of the gondola. "It took me 2 hours and 15 minutes, and when I got on the gondola for the ride back down the mountain, I felt like I had been hit by a truck," Barry recalled. This was all the motivation he needed to begin an exercise routine.

Barry set up a walking program that consisted of walking for one hour each day, six days per week. If he couldn't put in the full hour, he'd squeeze in whatever time he could. When asked what he appreciated most about the hospital's program, he said, "I liked the structure and accountability. The walk tests, log forms, handouts and weekly talks were all helpful in keeping me going."

At the end of the program, Barry hiked up the ski mountain again. This time he shaved 30 minutes off his original time.

"I felt like I could turn around and do it again! It was a great feeling," he said.

Barry has recently returned to Steamboat for another summer with his family and has already signed up for the next walking program. He is eager to tackle his friend, Mount Werner, after growing tired of the flat terrain of Florida.

Barry's story is an inspiring one. Why not join him and lace up your walking shoes, slap on some sunscreen, put on a hat and hit the trail?

Walking is the perfect exercise for most people because you don't need specialized equipment and you can do it just about anytime, anywhere.

On average, walking burns the same number of calories as running without putting as much stress put on your joints, especially on your knees.

Studies have shown walkers are better at sticking to their exercise program than most other exercise groups because it's a "do-able" activity.

If you walk on a regular basis, such as three to five times a week, you're on your way to improved fitness, just as Barry experienced within two months of consistent walking. Blood pressure begins to go down, cholesterol levels can change for the better and walking can be a great way to lose weight. Your heart, lungs and muscles become stronger. Walking can also increase bone mass by an average of 5 percent in just nine months.

Let's not forget the mental benefits of walking, or of any exercise program for that matter. Walking can boost the spirits of the depressed, calm the angry and relax the highly stressed. Less stress means lower blood pressure as well as a decreased risk of illness or disease.

If you need one last reason for walking, studies show that people who exercise regularly live longer. The incidence of developing heart disease is half that of sedentary people. So, when you put it all together a stronger heart, lungs, bones and muscles, decreased weight, less stress and a longer life going for a walk sounds like a pretty good idea.

As coordinator of the Wellness Program of the Yampa Valley Health Plan, Lisa A. Bankard, M.S., oversees Yampa Valley Medical Center's community education programming.

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