Walking the Walk
The Best Exercise
Talking and Walking continued...
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.
In addition to sponsoring local groups, Walking for Wellness
and the American Heart Association stage annual walks to get out the word about
walking and cardiovascular health. In June, walks took place in Baltimore;
Atlanta; Columbus, Ohio; and Detroit.
The walks' organizers hope to counter the numbers shown in
several recent studies. A July 1999 study of 218 black college students, in the
Journal of the National Medical Association (the organization
representing African-American physicians), found that young black women had
lower levels of aerobic fitness compared with African-American men, as well as
white and Hispanic women.
In addition, several recent studies have pointed to rising
levels of obesity among young black women and adolescents, which may raise the
risk of diabetes, coronary heart disease, and certain cancers. A nationwide
study of more than 17,700 middle school and high school students in the June
issue of Pediatrics found that African-American girls were particularly
likely to be sedentary and thus potentially at greater risk for problems such
as obesity, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.
Avery originally aimed her program at older black women, but
recently several campuses of historically black colleges have formed chapters,
including Southern University in Baton Rouge, La; Morgan University in
Baltimore; and Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn. Eventually, she hopes to
widen the program to include men as well.
The National Black Women's Health Project provides a resource
kit with guidelines on how to form a walking group and tips such as stretching
exercises. The kit is available by calling the NBWHP at (202) 543-9311 or
visiting the group's web site at http://www.nbwhp.org.