Walking groups a big hit with local seniors

Not even some nasty weather this winter has stopped seniors in northern Wellington County from enjoying local walking groups.

Since they began in Janu­ary, the walking groups have been a resounding success for local seniors looking for a little extra exercise and some interaction with their peers.

“I’m really pleased with the response that we’ve been getting,” said Sandy Turner, health promoter with the Minto Mapleton Family Health Team. Anyone is welcome in the groups, she added, though officials specifically target senior participants.

The family health team has partnered with the Seniors Centre for Excellence, Well­ington Dufferin Guelph Public Health, and the local In Motion initiative to offer walking groups in Drayton, Palmerston, Harriston, and Clifford.

Turner explained seniors of all fitness levels participate, even those who use canes for assistance. She said everyone can benefit from improved mobility and stamina within just a few weeks.

Kay Ayres, of Teviotdale, can vouch for the benefits of the program.

“In here, there are no excuses. It forces me to walk for an hour,” said Ayres, who is part of the group that meets at the Palmerston community centre. “But it’s flexible; there’s no competition and there’s always someone to talk to.”

Ayres said the program is great because it’s free, everyone is taught how to properly warm up and stretch, and be­cause it takes place indoors, where weather is not a factor and washrooms are readily available.

“It’s structured enough that we know every week at the regular time people will be here,” she said. “But it’s also unstructured enough that you can miss it once in a while and pick it right up again.”

Ayres did not hesitate when asked if she would recommend the walking groups to others.

“Oh gosh ya,” she said with a smile. “Absolutely. It’s great.”

Laura Knoll, of the Seniors Centre for Excellence, said despite advertising the program, word of mouth has likely had the greatest impact on the growing popularity of the groups.

“And the weather doesn’t stop anyone either,” Knoll said.

The Palmerston group boasts a membership of about 55, the Drayton group has about 25 regular members, and the Harriston and Clifford groups, which just started at the end of February, have at least a dozen and are growing.

Eventually, the goal is to have a volunteer “champion” at each group that will help keep the groups going.

“I just think exercise is really important and walking is the easiest exercise, but it’s also one of the most beneficial,” Turner said. She added walking helps minimize risk factors associated with all health problems.

“It’s a pretty powerful tool; it’s just that people need to do it more often and I think these walking groups are a great way to address that,” she said.

The Seniors’ Centre for Excellence is part of the pro­vince’s Aging At Home strat­egy, funded through the Wat­erloo-Wellington Local Health Integration Network.

Mapleton Township, the local lead on the project, re­ceived a grant of $507,000 for this Aging at Home program, with the goal of helping seniors live in their homes for as long as possible.

For more information on the walking groups or to join, call the centre at 519-638-1000.