By SUE SUCHYTA
DEARBORN – Seniors are walking laps while taking steps to improve their health with the Senior Walking Club at the Ford Community & Performing Arts Center.
The group, which meets three times a week at the center, 15801 Michigan Ave., encourages Dearborn seniors to drop in from 1 to 3 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Club members can register on a drop-in basis and pay just $1 each time to use just the track, without purchasing a fitness center membership.
Fitness pass-holders, who live or work in Dearborn, may use the track at no additional charge as part of their member benefits.
Donna Bechtel of the recreation department said the Senior Walking Club originally used Fairlane Town Center, but disbanded for a few years before reactivating in 2007 at the recently remodeled fitness portion of the center.
Mary Kay Capatina of the recreation department said the upper level track has a rubber surface that is easier on joints than hard surfaces like concrete, and the indoor track doesn’t get slippery from rain or snow.
The center’s climate control keeps walkers warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and filters out airborne allergens.
Eleven laps around the inside lane is about equal to a mile, letting walkers easily track their walking distance.
Capatina said many of the regular walkers enjoy the social aspects of the club.
“They get to know each other, and they’ll talk and make friends,” Capatina said.
“’Walkie talkies’ is what we call them,” Bechtel said. “If they are looking for a nice, social group, and they just need somebody to talk to, they are a great group.”
Bechtel said everyone walks at a different pace, so you have a chance to meet other walkers, or you can match someone’s pace and talk with them. The windows around the upper level track provide a seasonally changing view.
“You can see the outdoors in the wintertime when it’s snowing,” Bechtel said, “and when it is sunny and hot outside you can still see the birds flying.”
Capatina said some people are told by their doctor to walk, but they don’t want to walk around their neighborhood.
She said they set up chairs around the perimeter of the track so walkers who need to rest between laps can do so.
“If you were walking in your neighborhood, some people need to take a break, and then walk a little more,” Capatina said. “That is another thing that they couldn’t do if they were outside unless they were in a park.”
Bechtel said afternoon walk club times are convenient, because most senior exercise classes are held in the morning, and teens are still in school, so the track is relatively quiet and uncrowded.
Bechtel said reduced stress on joints is one reason why walking is a popular form of exercise.
“It’s easy to do. You don’t have to have any experience, just move your legs,” Bechtel said. “And it’s very social.”
After Karl Kliemann completed therapy following knee replacement surgery, he started walking with the club on his doctor’s advice.
“They recommended I do something like that so I wouldn’t have a problem, and actually, I haven’t,” Kliemann said. “Ever since I got done with the therapy, I never had another pain in that knee at all.”
He said he walks three days a week with a good friend.
“It’s a lot easier walking with somebody,” Kliemann said. “They have a nice track up here to walk on, you’re socializing, meeting people, you are using your mind more, it is better in a lot of ways to keep you from deteriorating.”
Ron Konarski found that the walking club helped his heart recover emotionally and physically after his first wife died, and he said he met his second wife when he literally ran into her on the track.
“She said I bumped into her, and I tell her she bumped into me, and that way we started communications,” Konarski said. “It was nice talking with her, and doing things even more.”
Louise Salter said her blood pressure and her cholesterol levels have dropped since she started walking, and she feels better.
“In the summertime, the sun really bothers my eyes, so that’s why I like it inside,” Salter said. “It’s good for your health, and you feel so much better than just sitting on the couch.”
Barbara Herron said her body gets stiff if she doesn’t walk regularly, and she feels more limber after she walks, and it is easier for her to get down to her basement to do laundry.
Herron, who lives alone, said walking at the center also gives her a chance to be with other people.
Virginia Blow of Senior Services said the walking club helps seniors get in better walking shape for an upcoming trip, and the walking club’s schedule is flexible.
“Sometimes something comes up, and you can go (walking) on the date that you need to,” Blow said. “We have nice flexible time, and you pay only when you come. And what’s even nicer is you meet people that are in the same exercise mode.”
Blow said she is more of a talker than a walker, and she likes the way the padded track is easy on her feet and other people’s hip and knee replacements.
“The track is calling you, and the exercise is calling you,” Blow said. “We’ve got the program.”
For more information about Dearborn Recreation and Parks Department Senior Services, call 313-943-2412 or go to dearbornfordcenter.com/seniors.