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Seniors walk for their health

They travel the region with a clear mission: To walk up mountain trails, alongside waterfronts and near city streets.

The senior citizens involved with the Federal Way Senior Center’s “Walk for Your Life” program like to keep on the move.

Throughout the year, they participate in two-hour walks on Tuesdays. From May to October, hikes are offered on Fridays. All seniors are welcome to join the “Walk for Your Life” activities. Participants’ ages and health conditions are considered when trail destinations are chosen, said Tacoma resident and walker Shirley Duffy, 74.

The goal of the “Walk for Your Life” program is to assist seniors in improving and maintaining their health through exercise. The program was originally started by a man whose doctor told him he needed to exercise more if he wished to continue living.

The walks are an opportunity to stay active, socialize and make new friends.

Each week the group loads into a 12-passenger forest green van and visits a new location. They journey to places far (Mount Rainier and West Seattle) and near (Dash Point State Park and Puyallup).

Walkers meet at 9 a.m. Tuesdays at the Federal Way Senior Center, 4016 S. 352nd St. They each pay a small fee, based on how many walkers participate that day, how far the group must travel to reach their destination and whether they will need to purchase lunch. The cost does not regularly exceed $5.

The walks are rated on a scale of one to three based on difficulty. Level one signals that the walk consists of slight climbs in elevation and maintained trails. The paved Puyallup Riverwalk trail, which the group completed on July 24, is an example of this difficulty level.

A level two walk is slightly more difficult and involves an elevation change of no more than 300 feet. Level three is the most difficult level. These can be up to 5 miles long on rough trails with an elevation gain of about 500 feet. The scheduled Aug. 7 walk to Shadow Lake in Mount Rainier’s Sunrise is an example of this trail level.

‘I love to walk’

The group is led by Al Osborne, 83. He is knowledgeable about flowers and mushrooms. He seems to know where all the trails in the area are.

With a quick stride, brown suspenders and a fisherman’s hat, Osborne is well respected among the group.

“Al amazes us all,” Federal Way resident Dot Hoffman said.

Usually 12 to 15 seniors participate in the walks, Duffy said. The more difficult mountain trails draw less of a crowd, said Federal Way resident Rod Sterley, 67.

But by no means is the group out of shape.

Several of the program’s participants exercise on a regular basis. Osborne usually leads both the program’s walks and its hikes. Water aerobics are part of Federal Way resident Lois Hershman’s exercise regime. Hoffman and Brown’s Point resident Frank Ehle walk around their respective neighborhoods daily.

“I love to walk,” Hoffman said. “I could walk all day if I had the chance.”

The outings provide exercise, but they also offer friendly faces and opportunities to socialize.

On the morning of July 24, the group consisted of 13 senior citizens, mostly women. With walking shoes on their feet, hats on their heads and water bottles in their hands, they began their stroll near the riverbank. They talked about the vegetation along the trail, their grandchildren, previous walk experiences and graffiti. They shared travel stories and gardening tips.

“When you’re alone, you have to get out and be with people,” Hershman said.

Once seniors have mastered the walks, they are welcome to participate in the program’s hikes. Duffy recommends attempting the walks first.

Hikes are rated on a scale from three to five. Hikers depart at 8:30 a.m. from the senior center.

A level three hike has some manageable hills and rough terrain with obstacles that may need to be scaled. Elevation gain for these hikes is a few hundred feet. Hikes traversing more than 5 miles with elevation changes of about 1,000 feet are classified as a level four. The hardest of the hikes is a level five — long, uphill ventures on highly elevated switch back trails. Some of these hikes require participants to carve their own trail.

A few walkers also participate in the Friday hikes. They reminisced Tuesday about one particular hike to the mountains that resulted in a manmade trail. Brush had overgrown the trail in some areas, the walkers explained.

Both the walks and the hikes are beneficial, Hoffman said. It’s important to maintain one’s health through exercise, but doing so alone is not safe, she said. The program allows seniors to stay healthy and enjoy new scenery each week, she said.

Many members of the group scout local newspapers and keep their eyes and ears open for new trails to try. Osborne is open to suggestions for walk or hike destinations.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

The next scheduled walk is for Tuesday, July 31 to Lincoln Park in West Seattle near Alki Beach.

To learn more about the Federal Way Senior Center’s walks or hikes call Al Osborne at (253) 208-9520. Visit the senior center’s Web site at www.federalwayseniorcenter.org to view a schedule of upcoming walk and hike destinations.

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