SANFORD – Fifteen walkers braved a dense fog outside last week to get inside Walmart for an event aimed at keeping people moving.

The 7 a.m. launch on Jan. 17 of an indoor walking program at the Sanford Walmart, sponsored by Partners for Healthier Communities, included a talk about the health benefits of the program before participants set off to walk the store’s perimeter together. One lap around the store equals a quarter of a mile.

According to Partners for Healthier Communities at Southern Maine Health Care – one of 27 Healthy Maine Partnerships in Maine – the program to expand access to indoor walking in the Sanford-Springvale area was a collaborative effort with the Sanford-Springvale YMCA and the Let’s Go! program of Southern Maine Health Care. That program aims to help kids and families eat healthy and be active.

Betsy Kelly, director of Partners for Healthier Communities, on hand to welcome participants to the event, said that walking for just 30 minutes a day can offer a major health benefit.

“[Walking] has been shown to decrease the risk of heart disease, improve blood pressure and elevate your mood, to name a few,” said Kelly.

But walking in the colder months can have its drawbacks.

“Winter can be detrimental to anyone’s fitness plan,” said Reegan Brown, a health promotion coordinator at the Sanford campus of Southern Maine Health Care. “Even if you’re an avid walker, it can sometimes be unbearable to get outside in these cold temperatures and always running the risk of falling on the ice.”

Weather-related issues are one reason Merilee Perkins, senior program director of the Sanford-Springvale YMCA, sees indoor walking as a great option.

“It is a great form of exercise; it increases muscle strength and improves balance which can reduce one’s risk of falling,” said Perkins. “Sanford has an extensive trail system that is ideal for walking, but the icy conditions during the winter months and humidity in the summer pose challenges. The collaborative efforts to provide a safe environment for community members to walk regardless of weather conditions naturally made Walmart the perfect venue.”

Perkins added that York County Community Action does have a transportation program that includes Walmart as a stop for those that are unable to get to the location on their own.

Lyman resident Pat Graffam, who participated in the event, likes the idea of walking indoors.

“I saw this and thought, ‘Cool. I will check it out.’ I love to walk. I come over here to go shopping so it works out well.”

Walking indoors also provides an opportunity for social interaction. Kelly said that walking at Walmart or other indoor spaces gives people of any age a safe place to exercise along with a chance to meet others in the community.

Safety, especially when it is cold and icy outside, was important to a number of participants at the kickoff. Joanne Livingston of Sanford heard about the program at her workplace.

“There are not a lot of opportunities for indoor walking. I think it’s really great. It keeps people moving,” said Livingston. “The store is easy to walk in, and it feels safe, rather than being outside, alone. There are people around.”

This is not the first time a walking program has been in place at Walmart. The store and Partners for Healthier Communities had cooperated to encourage indoor walking about two years ago.

“We’ve re-energized it and brought it back,” said Kelly. “Walmart Store Manager Chip Tracey and Claire Webb, community outreach coordinator, have been very supportive, which we are grateful for.”

Both Kelly and Perkins hope that the indoor walking program will expand to other locations.

“Our hope is that the indoor walking option is used by many since it really is a great community resource,” said Kelly. “We do hope to find other partners in the communities we work within who may have a place that can be open for public use.”

Walmart, 1930 Main St., Sanford, is open for group walking daily from 6-8 a.m.

A CLOSER LOOK

For more information about Partners for Healthier Communities see, www.facebook.com/partnersforhealthiercommunities. For more information about Let’s Go! 5210, see www.letsgo.org.

Participants in the indoor walking kick-off event last Friday did two laps around Walmart, which equaled a half-mile.


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