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VITALITY: Take a walk on mild side

Lori Catlow-Price and her son, Sage, are walking club coordinators for the Prairie Amblers group, which meets at 8 a.m. each Saturday at the Doar Prairie Restoration park along Business Highway 64 across from the New Richmond Golf Club.

You don't need to be a hard-core runner or spend hours each day at the gym to improve your health and lose weight.

Simply walking on a regular basis can have a huge impact as well.

That's what residents of Albert Lea, Minn. found out when the community launched its Blue Zones Vitality Project in 2009. Part of their year-long wellness effort was to organize walking groups of up to 10 people who would commit to gathering once a week for a good stroll.

Experts have been touting the value of walking for years. Walking is great exercise, because it's a low-impact workout and just about everyone can go for walks. Taking a walk doesn't require practice, and participants can take part at their own pace.

Regular walking groups can also promote connectedness within a community, as Albert Lea residents found. Many who joined walking groups in that Minnesota community developed new friendships as a result of their participation.

New Richmond's Vitality Initiative is trying to promote a similar program in this community and encouraging people to gather in groups and start walking on local trails and sidewalks.

A number of walking groups have formed and they meet on different days and at different times during the week.

The New Richmond Striders meet at the Heritage Centre at 9 a.m. on Mondays. The group takes a one- to two-mile walk from there. The group is led by Lori Catlow-Price.

On Tuesdays at 2:30 p.m., the Westfields Walkers, led by Brian Lease, take a one- to two-mile walk starting at the front entrance of Westfields Hospital.

The Centre Trail Travelers gather at The Centre at noon on Thursdays. The group, led by Jackie Huff, walks one to two miles.

Mary Jo Brunner is the Family Fresh Explorers leader. The group meets at 4 p.m. Friday at Family Fresh Market and walks for about two miles.

The Prairie Amblers meet at 8 a.m. Saturdays at the Doar Prairie Restoration park. The walk totals one and a half to two miles. The leader is Lori Catlow-Price.

"I wanted to start a walking group to get outside while getting to know some of the folks in New Richmond," Catlow-Price said. "I like to walk and chat. I think walking is a great low impact way to exercise. The Doar Prairie is a fabulous place to walk. Even some hills for some added interest and aerobic challenge."

Catlow-Price said anyone is welcome to participate in any of the new walking groups.

"I am planning to continue year round," she said. "The only weather I would cancel a walk for is thunderstorms, severe icy surfaces and very windy, heavy rains. My phone will be with me before and during a walk if anyone would like to call to inquire about the day's plans."

For those who want to walk inside, New Richmond Community Education has had an indoor walking program at Starr Elementary for more than 20 years.

The newly opened Community Commons building is also available for indoor walking. Participants need to pick up a walking pass at the Community Ed office before walking at Starr or the Community Commons.

Walking is limited to when school is in session at Starr, and there are specific morning and afternoon hours available at that school. Walkers can use the Community Commons whenever the building is open. For more information, call 715-243-7421.

Blue Zones

Author Dan Buettner and National Geographic found five spots around the globe where people live longer lives and more healthy lives. In all of those locations (Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; and Icaria, Greece) walking and regular physical activity played a key role in the residents' longevity and overall wellness.

Research indicates that walking lowers a person's blood pressure, reduces bad cholesterol, helps people manage their weight and improves a person's mood.

There are some precautions people should take, however, when first beginning a walking routine.

* Get the correct gear. Comfortable shoes with arch supports are a good idea.

* Walking upright, with good posture, makes a big difference and can help a person avoid injuries.

* Walking slowly for five minutes to gradually warm up your muscles is a good idea. A walker can increase their pace once they are warmed up.

* Stretching before you start is also a good idea, as you can avoid strains that could hobble you for some time.

* Cooling down can help reduce stress on a walker's heart and muscles.

* As you walk, check your heart rate. You may be able to increase the intensity of your walking to maximize the workout you're getting.