Companionship and exercise two main ingredients of Walk n’ Talk for your Life
By Patty Wellborn
It has long been established that a healthy lifestyle can help a person enjoy their retirement years. While it’s basic knowledge, it’s not always the easiest to adopt.
In fact, 80 year-old Marguerite Burke led a rather sedentary life until she heard about UBC Okanagan’s Walk n’ Talk for Your Life program. Admitting that she initially joined to get out and meet people, she soon realized twice weekly walks increased her activity level and her sense of well-being.
Walk n’ Talk is the brainchild of UBC’s Dr. Charlotte Jones. Her team, consisting mostly of UBC students from several faculties including the Southern Medical Program, nursing, human kinetics, social work, and psychology, hosts regular discussions about health concerns and also leads twice-weekly community walks.
Jones, Associate Professor of Medicine with UBC’s Southern Medical Program, is the principal investigator of the research study that accompanies Walk n’ Talk. Central Okanagan residents, 55 years and older are encouraged to participate in the program, which involves some physical activity based on New Zealand’s Otago Exercise program, designed specifically to prevent falls by introducing leg muscle strengthening, balance exercises, and a regular walking program.
“It’s a valid program for seniors and we find if they include the walk, for about 30 minutes at least three times a week at their own pace and ability, it’s a great step in leading them to a healthy lifestyle,” says Jones. “There are lot of seniors in this area who live isolated lives and getting them involved in a program like this goes a long way to improve their quality of life.”
Burke lives independently with her husband but wanted to meet more like-minded people. She was hesitant at first, concerned about adopting a new exercise routine at her age, but now says Walk n’ Talk has certainly changed the quality of her life for the better.
“I love my husband, but I don’t want to be with him every moment of every day,” she jokes. “This has helped me get back on my feet. At my age, I want to be able to continue to enjoy walks and being able to find new people to walk with has been a wonderful experience.”
Walk n’ Talk is an interdisciplinary research project based at UBC Okanagan. Students interact with participants, assist in exercise programs, teach education modules, and collect data. Second-year medical student Celine Akyurekli enjoys her Thursday morning walks with seniors at the Heritage Retirement Residence in West Kelowna. Akyurekli also leads activities with the group and is assisting with the research.
“The social aspect of this is very important,” says Akyurekli. “We are able to get people connected to each other and they are making the commitment to come out each week so they can visit while they enjoy their walk. I have watched the friendships develop and it’s wonderful to see.”
The next Walk n’ Talk for Your Life takes place at Global Fitness starting January 7. Registration is free, and participants will begin with an interview and basic health testing (blood pressure, hearing, mobility function, grip strength test, walking pace) before and after the program. They will also be given a handbook to keep with them, and after 10 weeks in the program, Jones says generally some good healthy habits have been established.
This will be the fourth edition of Walk n’ Talk in the community, and while it’s early to analyse the data, Jones says preliminary numbers are encouraging. Previous Walk n’ Talk participants have reported their overall perceptions about personal health and well-being have improved, while measures of loneliness and isolation have shown a trend towards improvement along with measures of mobility function. Overall, participants report an increasing confidence level in performing various activities without fear of losing balance.
“We have had a few participants who were quite sedentary and withdrawn. They have come back to us and told us that their whole life has been turned around by the program,” says Jones. “The basic principle is empowerment and motivation for the seniors.”