Getting in a workout doesn’t have to depend on going to a gym —get out and walk, climb steps and enjoy nature
By Rebecca Koffman, Special to The Oregonian
On a crisp October morning, seven women stride up a hill in Mt. Tabor Park. Gravel crunches underfoot, trees loom out of the mist. Faint sunbeams set red and yellow leaves aglow.
The group hesitates at a fork in the road. “We’re going up,” says walk leader Kristin Jackson, a certified personal trainer and health coach, pointing to the steeper path.
“Of course we are, up, up, up!” says one of the women following her. There are groans and laugh ter. The women are here to learn how to use the outdoors as their gym. This workout walk is one of many on the calendar for Walktober 2013, an annual event to celebrate the health benefits of walking. The guided walks include fitness-focused outings like the Mt. Tabor walk as well as events focused on bridge architecture, sunset meanders and wine-tasting. Anyone can lead or join a walk.
Jackson, owner of Take It Outside Fitness, leads outdoor exercise classes in Mt. Tabor Park all year. She’s a believer in the mental and physical health benefits of fresh air and greenspace. “Exercise is not something you do only at a particular time or place, you can exercise anywhere or anytime,” she says. Walking forward, for example, is only one way to climb a hill. “Try walking backward,” Jackson tells the women, “make sure to check the terrain over your shoulder as you go.”
“This uses a whole different set of muscles,” says Ellen Rubinstein, one of the women in the group, as she notices the adjustments her body makes.
Next come lunges. Jackson demonstrates, lifting her leading knee high and taking a giant step forward, back leg bending low. “Remember to keep your tailbone tucked.”
After lunges she leads the group through a variety of exercises: skipping, grapevines and squats. As the women move sideways up the slope, squatting deeply with each step, Jackson explains that keeping your squatting muscles limber helps you to lower yourself onto toilet seats and into baths as you grow older. This may not be an immediate concern for the woman on this walk, who range in age from their 30s to their 50s. More of an issue? How to incorporate lunges, squats, skips and grapevines on their regular strolls without looking nuts.
“Walk with a friend; anything goes if you do it together,” Jackson suggests. Or, she adds, head to your neighborhood park. With all the Hula Hoopers and amateur acrobats in Portland, it’s unlikely to appear unusual there.
The morning mist is dissipating and the walkers start to shed outer layers of clothing. Just in time to tackle the nearly 100 steep steps leading up to one of the park’s reservoirs.
Jackson offers options: Walk the stairs briskly. If you’re looking for more of a challenge, jog up, perhaps two at a time, or climb sideways and add in some squats.Everyone is out of breath by the time they get to the top of the staircase. But the reward is immediate: “Does everybody see this? Look at this! Our amazing city,” says Jen Neitzel to the other women in the group, her arms spread wide to encompass the panoramic view of Portland spread out below.
After all the cardiovascular work, it’s time for the group to focus on upper body strength and balance training . The park’s playground, deserted at the moment, provides the equipment. Jackson demonstrates how to do triceps presses on benches, use the swing sets for rows, the picnic tables for push-ups and trees or lampposts to work on biceps. She also shows the group several balance exercises — slow and controlled one-leg step-ups and torso twists — using stairs, curbs or benches. The seesaws come in handy to hone balance, abdominal muscles and proprioception (the sense of where your body is in space).
Jackson is quick to offer more or less challenging alternatives to people who need them and to suggest modifications for those who need to avoid stress on particular joints or body parts.
After doing modified pull-ups on the climbing bars, the group heads back down the hill on a narrow trail that winds through ferns and evergreens. Some of the women remark on the birdsongs, the smell of the damp soil and how exercise makes them more cheerful.
They gather in a loose circle at the lower reservoir. “Did everyone feel like they got a workout?” Jackson asks. They respond with a chorus of yeses. She asks the women to open their arms wide and take a deep breath. After a brief pause, “arms down and exhale.”
Getting out and walking, alone or with friends, is not just good for personal health but also for community health, says Jackson. “When you’re out in the park or in the neighborhood, you notice things, you start to care more. It’s a very different experience than being plugged in on the treadmill.”
A little walk goes a long way
A simple 30-minute walk a day can have a multitude of benefits, including:
• Reducing the risk of coronary heart disease
• Improving blood pressure and blood sugar levels
• Improving blood lipid profile
• Lowering the risk of obesity
• Enhancing mental well-being
• Reducing risk of osteoporosis
• Reducing risk of breast and colon cancer
• Reducing risk of Type 2 diabetes
Source: The American Heart Association
PHOTOS BY REBECCA KOFFMAN/SPECIAL TO THE OREGONIAN
Michelle Webster, Ellen Rubinstein and Anne Laufe use a Mt. Tabor picnic table to do pushups with instruction from trainer Kristin Jackson (far right).
Jackson (left) shows Webster how to work her abdominal muscles on the seesaw at the playground in Mt. Tabor Park. Behind them, Laufe uses a seesaw to hone her balance.