Walking the Walk
The Best Exercise
Talking and Walking
Avery launched Walking for Wellness with the help of Wilma
Rudolph, the legendary black sprinter who won three gold medals in the 1960
Olympics and died of brain cancer in 1995. The first walk took place in
Eatonville, Fla., a tiny all-black town that is the home of the writer Zora
Neale Hurston. Today, Walking for Wellness has groups in cities such as
Houston, New Orleans, and New York.
For many black women, health problems "are just not
something, traditionally, that you talk about," Avery says. But for women
who walk with partners or in groups, walking offers a chance to discuss their
health concerns, says Avery, who won a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1989
for her work on community health issues and has served as a visiting fellow at
the School of Public Health at Harvard University.
Akua Budu-Watkins, 51, can testify to the power of talking and
walking: A project manager in Detroit, she says she has lost 30 pounds since
she started walking regularly about two years ago.
More importantly, she's acquired a group of "walking
sisters" who don't let her slack off even when things get rough. This
happened recently when Budu-Watkins became overwhelmed by the demands of her
job along with her role as primary caretaker for her 85-year-old mother and two
aunts, aged 87 and 70.
After Budu-Watkins stopped showing up for her group walks, her
"walking sisters" showed up at her office, clad in walking shoes and
demanding to know when she was going to start exercising again.
The visit worked: Though it took a few weeks for Budu-Watkins
to get back on track, now she walks twice a week in the neighborhood near her
home in downtown Detroit. Sometimes it takes a sister, she says, to teach a
black woman to pay attention to her own needs.
"What I've learned throughout the years is that we really
negate ourselves," says Budu-Watkins. "We're so busy taking care of our
children, our jobs, our man -- we don't take care of ourselves." That's
where group walks can make all the difference.