The mayor would like us all to take a hike, but he means it in a very, very good way.
In late February, Mayor Dave Bieter kicked off Walk 150, a citywide health goal the mayor established in conjunction with all the other city events this year as Boise celebrates its 150th birthday. He wants each of us to set a goal of walking at least 150 miles this year.
"Boise is known as a healthy community, but even with all of the city's natural resources and recreation amenities, far too many of us are overweight and living inactive lifestyles," Bieter said. "We can't be a livable community if we aren't also a healthy one. This program is designed to inspire residents to incorporate walking into their daily lives while enjoying Boise's many walkable features."
Although walking 150 miles is like walking from Boise to Riggins, happily, the mayor wants us to incorporate walking into our daily or weekly schedules and accumulate those miles over the course of a year, a little bit at a time. The mayor's personal challenge is to walk those 150 miles by July 7, the date of Boise's birth. That's the day the city was platted by our first city planners at Fort Boise 150 years ago.
To get people involved, the city created the website Walk150.org. You can sign up on the site and track the miles you walk during the year. On the home page is a large ticker of the cumulative miles participants have walked during the course of this new program.
One of the intriguing parts of the website is a list of Boise parks that the mayor hopes will entice people into finding city parks they may not even realize are tucked into quiet neighborhoods from one end of town to the other. Everyone will recognize Ann Morrison, Veterans Memorial and ParkCenter parks, but how many people have been to Cassia, Catalpa or Redwood parks?
Eventually, each park will have signs that indicate just how far you've walked on your selected path or loop, so you won't need a pedometer to do your math for you. That information is already available on the website. There also are many smartphone apps that will measure your distance.
"I fell in love with the website," said Ali Hardy, who, with Erica McGinnis, cofounded a walking group at her church.
"It gave me a fresh new look at Boise," she said. "I realized there were a lot of places in Boise I hadn't explored yet. We eventually want to explore all the parks on the website. That was one of the inspirations for us."
Their new group, currently called "Our Walking Group," is a diverse group of women of all ages and all types. Some bring their children on their weekly walks, others bring their dogs. But it's all a big, healthy social event to them.
"Just the idea of getting involved in a community program is fun because you feel a connection to Boise and the people who live here," Hardy said.
And unlike going to the gym or joining a running group, there is nothing intimidating about just going on a stroll with friends. You can be of any age or physical ability and walk whatever distance or speed that suits you.
"Walking is really inclusive," she said.
'MEET ME MONDAY'
Another relatively new walking program in the Treasure Valley that you can learn more about through Walk150.org is "Meet Me Monday," a partnership between Saint Alphonsus Health System and Bandanna Running and Walking.
Rain or shine, this program happens every Monday evening Downtown at the Pioneer/Old Boise Building. (More details, page 19.) There are several loops of varying length that range from a short stroll near the Capitol building to longer walks past the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial or over toward Broadway along the Greenbelt. The event ends each week with a prize drawing at 6:45 p.m. There also are incentives for hitting participation marks of eight, 16, 50 and 100 times.
But how about this for an incentive: Corey Surber, the director of Community Health Initiatives at Saint Alphonsus and one of the coordinators of "Meet Me Monday," has lost 35 pounds since the effort began last June.
"That happened just because I was walking," she said. "It didn't seem that hard. It's genius. Walking is one of those things people overlook in what a difference it can make in overall health. Even walking one day a week makes an impact."
IT STARTS WITH KIDS
Mayor Bieter is doing more than just challenging the rest of us to walk at least three miles a week. He (literally) walks the talk.
"I have switched from being a frequent bicycle commuter to a walking one," he said. "I'm fortunate to live just a mile from City Hall, so I'm able to commute easily. I have also been participating regularly in the 'Meet Me Monday' walking program." And he takes the stairs at City Hall whenever possible rather than riding the elevator.
The mayor's challenge has already been taken up by the Boise School District.
"Our mission is to create a healthier Idaho, and we think that starts with kids," said Zelda Geyer-Sylvia, president and CEO of Blue Cross of Idaho. The Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health is one of the sponsors of Walk 150, along with the city of Boise and "Let's Move Boise," a nationwide initiative dedicated to solving childhood obesity.
One in three Idaho children is considered obese, and she says that needs to change. It's one of the reasons this program is so important and why the mayor has taken it to the schools.
"It provides an opportunity to students to do what's right for their bodies and their health," said Dan Hollar, public affairs specialist with the Boise School District. "It helps keep them focused in school and helps to boost their immune systems. It dovetails nicely with what we're doing in PE."
Bieter will visit several schools this spring to help push the idea of developing a regular regimen of walking in the lives of Boise's children. He kicked off Walk 150 one recent snowy day in February at Jefferson Elementary School and walked laps with the kids. The school has an enrollment of 305 and has already established walking as part of every recess.
In anticipation of a citywide school challenge that will give awards and prizes to those schools with the most miles and the highest percentage of participation, some of the students at Jefferson School had already taken the challenge head on by the time the mayor officially kicked off the program.
"Five of them have already finished their 150 miles, so the pressure is on the rest of us," Bieter said.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE
The first thing to do is visit Walk150.org.
Sign up and log your miles on the community tracker. There also are plenty of other links on the site, including a list of city parks with walking paths and a complete look at Boise's sesquicentennial celebration (Boise150.org).
"We're getting people active," said Kendra Witt-Doyle, Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation manager. "It's a fun community event that highlights all our community assets - our trails, parks and walking paths."
JOIN A WALKING GROUP
For instance, you can head Downtown any Monday to the Pioneer/Old Boise Building at 6th and Main streets between 5:15 and 6 p.m. for "Meet Me Monday," the free and fun walking event that got underway last summer. While "Meet Me Monday" happens every week, there are special dates associated with the Walk 150 program (such as March 11, April 8 and May 6).
"The more opportunity we can provide to create a culture where we can get people up and moving is good for the community as a whole as well as your own personal health," said Corey Surber of Saint Alphonsus, which co-sponsors the "Meet Me Monday" program. Learn more at saintalphonsus.org/meet-me-monday.
Another website to visit is "Let's Move Boise" (letsmoveboise.com). This is a nationwide program that looks at childhood obesity not just from an exercise perspective but also from a nutritional one.
School kids know about the walking challenge and have begun a competition to see which school can walk the most miles. There will be a business challenge, too, so get out your walking shoes.
START YOUR OWN GROUP
Ali Hardy helped organize a walking group at her North End church. If you want to start a group, get a few friends together within your group or circle of friends. You have to walk the dog anyway, don't you?
"The enthusiasm is kind of contagious, and there are just so many benefits to it," Hardy said. "We all share a common enjoyment of the outdoors. Health is something that has motivated a lot of us, too. And the social aspects are a lot of fun."
WHERE TO WALK
If you need help finding good places to walk, check out all the city parks and trailheads you probably had no idea even existed. Some of them are buried in neighborhoods off the beaten path, but with paths that can't be beat.
The Walk 150 website lists about 17 city parks with paths and loops and their lengths so you can log your mileage on the community ticker.
A person is also bound to think of other places to walk that are not on the list. Kathryn Albertson Park comes to mind, as well as all those miles of the Greenbelt along the Boise River between Lucky Peak Reservoir and Eagle. There's also a link at Walk150.org that will take you to the Ridge to Rivers website (ridgetorivers.org), where you can discover many more trails in the Foothills above the city. There are more than 130 miles of trails to discover there. The mayor recommends going to the city's Department of Arts and History to find more walking tour ideas. There also are historic walking tours for Pioneer and Morris Hill cemeteries. You can find information on those two at the Boise Parks and Rec website (parks.cityofboise.org/parks-locations/cemeteries).
For those who prefer to walk out of the weather, Boise Towne Square is another spot that is both an exercise in health and a social event. The front door by the Cheesecake Factory opens at 5:30 a.m. and other doors open at 7 a.m., long before the stores are open - except Starbucks, of course. The lap distance of both levels put together is almost a mile and a half. This is an attractive site for several dozen seniors who prefer to do their walking indoors and still want to be near a cup of coffee or hot chocolate.
And stop driving around the parking lot looking for the closest space. Do some of your weekly walking just by parking a little farther away. It all adds up.
THE BENEFITS OF WALKING
Simply put, walking burns calories. The more walking you do, the more calories you burn.
If you think you can't find the time to walk, think of it this way: If you walk only three hours a week - that's 30 minutes a day for six days - you've used up just 2 percent of the hours in your week. Are you really that busy?
A pedometer - or similar smartphone app - can motivate you to keep walking and help you achieve or increase your goals.
There are a ton of studies on the benefits of walking, including those done by the American Heart Association, the Mayo Clinic, the National Walkers' Health Study and just about every other medical association.
Here are some of the benefits possible with a steady diet of walking:
- It cuts your risk of heart disease, breast cancer, colon cancer, diabetes and stroke. Women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and walk regularly have a 45 percent greater chance of survival than those who don't walk.
- Walking builds muscle, and muscles are always better than fat because they improve your metabolism and burn calories at a slightly higher rate.
- Walking improves mood, enhances mental well-being and is an effective treatment for depression. It also improves memory and can lower the risk of dementia.
- Lowers the bad cholesterol and raises the good.
- Improves blood pressure.
- Reduces the risk of osteoporosis.
- Improves sleep, including reducing snoring.
- Helps fight symptoms of fibromyalgia.
- Boosts energy.
WHERE TO LEARN MORE
- The American Heart Association National Walking Day is April 3 this year. (It's held annually the first Wednesday of April.) Visit the website at startwalkingnow.org to learn more and to find information about personalized walking plans.
- Websites like Sparkpeople.com, webmd.com, www.healthandwelfare.idaho.gov, EverydayHealth.com, Mayoclinic.com and www.cnn.com/health have lots of information about healthy habits.
OTHER POPULAR PLACES TO WALK IN THE VALLEY
- Downtown Meridian has diverse shops and restaurants, historical markers, pocket parks and updated streetscaping.
- Many Meridian-area parks (such as Settlers Park, Bear Creek Park, Tully Park, Chateau Park and Julius M. Kleiner) have great paths. Some even have loop paths, popular with walkers who don't like the monotony of retracing their steps.
- Hulls Gulch Interpretive Trail, about 7 miles up 8th Street in the Boise Foothills.
- Table Rock area, behind the Old Idaho Penitentiary. The Idaho Botanical Garden also is a great place for a stroll.
- In the Eagle area, the Greenbelt next to the Boise River behind Merrill Park.
- Eagle Island State Park. Take U.S. 20/26 to Linder Road, turn south and follow signs to the park.