Among its many benefits, Walking to Wellness has helped
strengthen connections between family members who walk
together. Here, Maritza Christensen of Cashmere walks with
her two daughters, Carolyn and Kelsey. (photo courtesy of
Margaret Viebrock)

Despite the absence of Gold’s Gym in rural parts of Chelan, Douglas and Okanogan counties, residents are finding opportunities to incorporate exercise in their daily activities with the Walking to Wellness program.

 
Walking to Wellness is a community-based physical fitness project run by Margaret Viebrock, a Douglas County WSU Extension director working with the three counties. It is designed to promote healthier attitudes and behaviors toward increased physical activity.
 
“It takes 21 days to create a new habit,” Viebrock said. “People find how easy it is once they have gotten into that habit.”
 
Incremental increase
Initially participants are given a pedometer and are encouraged to keep a log of the number of steps they walk each day. Each week they are encouraged to increase their steps by 10 percent. The general goal is to increase their walking to 10,000 steps a day, which is five miles.
 
“It is an individual challenge based on the amount of walking they are currently doing,” Viebrock said, which allows for a wide range of participants. “We have had some youth, and elderly as old as 90, join the program.”
 
Pat Phillips, who works at Wenatchee Valley College, recruited many staff members and even a few students to the program.
 
“At the college it really got people motivated and thinking about exercise,” she said.
 
The program lasts two months and includes three meetings and biweekly newsletters. The first session focuses on how to create new habits. The second and third meetings include information on healthy eating and sustaining the new walking habit. Prizes are awarded for participants who have walked the most, those who most often met their goals, those most improved, etc.
 
Spry at 90
The program is in its fourth year; it has helped 950 people from 19 rural communities walk more than 151 million steps.
 
Mansfield resident Ethel Poole, 90, walked 95 miles in three months and received an award for never giving up.
 
“The walking program helped make me feel energetic and alive,” Poole said. “It does make a difference in one’s balance, and I think it’s a good program — even at 90.”
 
Walking to Wellness’ impact on the community is evident as people continue their walking habits after completing the program. More schools and community centers are creating alternative indoor spaces to accommodate residents wanting to walk during the winter months.
 
“Many people have lost weight, gained more energy, gotten their diabetes under control or their cholesterol down,” Viebrock said. “These are secondary results of just adding steps to their everyday lives. It has even helped make stronger connections between family members who walk together.”