Traverse City Record-Eagle

Body & Soul

June 9, 2012

Senior Focus: Hike, walk, get fresh air

Are you looking for a way to get in shape, while enjoying our magnificent forested wilderness and sweeping vistas of water? Lace up a pair of athletic shoes and start hiking or walking with the Senior Center Network.

Hikes at the Traverse City and Kingsley locations are in their second year. Facilitated by Gloria Halligan and Linda Laubach, the Traverse City Hiking Club meets currently on Tuesday afternoons (mornings in July). In Kingsley, facilitated by Nancy Heiler, the club hikes on Monday mornings. The walking club with Lori Wells, director of the Senior Center Network, is new this year and will walk at 5 p.m. on the first and third Wednesdays.

"In Traverse City, we try to keep our hikes to three or four miles and not too much incline," Halligan said. "But the club is hiking, which does indicate there might be some dirt paths, some inclines, tree roots to walk over and bugs. So far, we have found 26 different three- to four-mile hikes within a 20-mile radius of Traverse City."

Not only does hiking exercise almost every part of your body, but it also exercises your mind and fosters your imagination. Research has shown that interacting with nature improves an individual's cognitive function. A paper published by the Journal of Psychological Science, called "The Cognitive Benefits of Interactive Nature," based its discussion on the concept known as Attention Restoration Theory, developed by Rachel and Stephen Kaplan of the University of Michigan, which says nature provides a variety of attention-grabbing stimuli that urban environments lack, forcing the brain to work harder.

Where the hiking clubs make use of mostly wooded terrain, inclines and vistas of water, the walking program uses only a flat, paved trail.

"I felt there was another part of our population that just didn't feel a hiking club fit for them, but a walking group would," Wells said. "I don't consider myself a hiker, but I do consider myself a walker."

Walking is safe, uncomplicated and doesn't require training. And you can forget the "no pain, no gain" controversy. Research shows that regular, brisk walking can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, just as well as jogging.

"The walking will always be done on the TART Trail, beginning at Orchard Creek Health Care. We will start out walking a half-hour toward Suttons Bay and then turn around and come back, building on the duration each week that we walk," Wells said. "Ultimately by fall, I am hoping we can make the whole trek to Suttons Bay with Orchard Creek coming to pick us up in their bus for the ride back."

If participants want to push an Orchard Creek resident in a wheelchair, during their walk (it's not a requirement), the residents will have the experience of fresh air, as well.

"I love that part," Wells said. "That will give me a little more exercise and an opportunity to engage some people that might not otherwise be able to participate."

Call 922-4911, email ehovie@grandtraverse.org or visit the Senior Center Network at 801 E. Front St. Traverse City for more information or to register and obtain a schedule of the hikes and walks.

Kathleen Bellaw Gest is a local freelance writer. For more about the Traverse City Senior Center, go to www.tcseniorcenter.com.

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