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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.

Healthy Hearts

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.

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