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Take a walk

Heart-to-heart: Group walking good for your health, soul

It’s been almost a year since a stalwart group of local women have banded and bonded together for a vigorous group walk.

Every day, the group of care coordinators- nurses, pharmacists and coaches- get out of the office for a 2-mile walk around the Novant Health Lakeside Family Physician offices in Cornelius, North Carolina.

“It’s about walking the talk,” said Meryl Cohen, a nurse who works with patients daily to help them better manage their health. It's part of a new model for patient care that is focused on promoting  health instead of just treating disease.

Pharmacist Lori Uhlrich said she has benefitted from the bonding that comes with walking. “I learn a lot about my team while walking.” Plus, she added her blood pressure has improved and she finds she’s making better dietary choices, too.

A new study shows that people who participate in regular walks with friends and colleagues get more than the benefit of companionship. Walkers were also at reduced risk for stroke, heart disease and depression.  

Published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the study looked at 42 other studies involving more than 1,800 participants in 14 countries. Some of the participants in the studies had chronic conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Researchers found that participants in walking groups that stepped out regularly, even if it was less than hour of exercise, had lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and better resting heart rates. Plus, the walkers saw reduced body fat and lower body mass index numbers. 

The researchers also noted that 75 percent of the participants in the study kept to their walking routines, suggesting that people are likely to stick to this form of exercise.

“These findings show that the dynamics and social cohesion of walking in groups may produce additional advantages,” said Sarah Hanson, one of the lead researchers of the study, in a press release. “People who walk in groups also tend to have a more positive attitude toward physical activity and say they feel less lonely and isolated.” 

The group of Novant Health team members in Cornelius decided to get together regularly after one of their colleagues had a pulmonary embolism.

And they found they enjoyed the activity. “It’s a great stress reliever and it clears the brain,” Cohen said.

Marianne Soderman, another walker and care coordinator, said she has found that walking rejuvenates her.

It doesn’t hurt that the neighborhood they walk is attractive, admitted Charlette Johnson-Smith, a care coordinator who takes part in the group walks.  

When they don’t have time to join the daily walking ritual, the women will take a break from their desks and walk up and down the stairs for two minutes.

Looking to boost their level of activity, many other workers outside of Novant Health are banding together to take a brisk walk on their breaks – and for good reason. Another study released in January suggested that just 20 minutes of brisk walking a day can reduce the risk of death caused by a sedentary lifestyle.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services guidelines on physical activity recommend Americans engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week. However, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report found that nearly half of adults didn’t meet the recommendation in 2013.

In a day’s busy schedule, it can be hard to fit in exercise, but research shows – and the Novant Health group walkers in Cornelius agree – that every little bit of activity helps the mind and the body. 

Published: 2/19/2015