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Walk & Talk

"Lily Uyeno's doctor often looks awed when the Federal Way woman mentions her exercise regimen. My doctor tells me he doesn't know anyone my age that walks three or four miles, Uyeno says. I feel like I'm pretty long lived. The 84-year-old woman is one of about 15 senior citizens who regularly participate in the Federal Way Senior Center's Walk for Your Life Program. On Tuesdays in the spring, participants drive to King or Pierce County parks. In the summer, the program offers a more strenuous walk on Thursdays in addition to the Tuesday walks. The program was started about 12 years ago by a senior with heart problems whose doctor urged him to get more exercise, says Walk for Your Life coordinator Al Osborne. At that time, the American Association of Retired Persons sponsored the program. About six years ago, the senior center took over. The walks attract up to 36 people if the weather's sunny and the hike is especially popular, Osborne says. Some seniors bring their children or grandchildren along. All participants share an interest in improving their fitness. If you don't use it, you lose it, Osborne says. I think we all realize we have to schedule enough exercise so we keep ourselves in reasonable shape. Not everyone embraces that concept. Northeast Tacoma resident Adeline Ehle, 79, who attends the walks with her husband, Frank, 80, has a relative who hasn't exercised since retiring. Instead, he spends his days reading in a chair. Now the man can barely move from the chair, and Ehle believes that's because of his inactivity. You have to keep your body moving, your legs moving, your arms moving, she says. You just have to be active in order to survive. Fitness research bears that out. Physical activity provides a boon for people of all ages. But for senior citizens, regular exercise is critical because it reduces the chance of health problems and improves the quality of their later years. Reduced activity in old age leads to a thinning of the bones, a weakening of muscles and a reduction in the metabolic rate (the rate at which the body burns calories), according to Shape Up America, a national initiative to encourage fitness. As a result, elderly people often gain weight. Seniors who work out regularly can lower their blood pressure and blood fats, increase their muscle size and strength, and reduce anxiety and depression, Shape Up America says. Walk for Your Life participants gain both physical and mental benefits from their long walks. Some of the participants are married couples, but others are people who have lost a husband or wife and need a social outlet, says senior center director Harry Schreiber. It's companionship, Schreiber says. People enjoy it. The comradeship, you know. They laugh. It's really a get-together. Every couple of months, participants meet to plan upcoming hikes. Leaders scout future walks, decide lunch plans, provide driving instructions and rate a walk's difficulty. The next planning meeting is at 12:30 p.m. on April 6; seniors are welcome to submit their suggestions for future walks. Uyeno says she's amazed by the vistas she sees on the group's 3- to 4-mile walks, especially on trips to Mount Rainier NationalPark that take place every Thursday during the summer months. Goodness, it's beautiful scenery, she says. (I love) the gorgeous places you just don't ordinarily see. It's so much fun. The lakes, the Sound. You don't realize how many parks there are in King County or Pierce County. I would never have gone to hardly any of them without this walking group. Go for a walk The Walk for Life program schedules a walk every Tuesday. Walkers leave at 9 a.m. from the Federal Way Senior Center, 4016 S. 352nd St., but must be there at 8:45 a.m. to sign up. Carpool cost varies depending on how far participants must drive to get to the walk but averages $2. For more information, call 838-3604. Upcoming hikes include: * March 27, Lakehills Greenbelt: An easy walk through blueberry fields, Phantom Lake and Robinswood Park. Sack lunch. Cost is $3. * April 3, Seward Park: A loop trail in a popular Seattle park. Sack lunch. Cost is $3. * April 10, Lake Wilderness: Follow the old railroad grade to the Cedar River and through the South King County Arboretum. No lunch. Cost is $2. * April 17, Wildwood Park: Participants will walk the park's woodland trails and roadways on Puyallup's east hill.No lunch. Cost is $1.50. "

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