Walk 'n' talk
Health tip: Find a friend and start walking
Artist Karen Fleschler is sometimes tempted to skip her 8 a.m. weekday walk and go directly to her studio to work. Or perhaps to linger longer in her morning routine. But she can't: Julie Mrzywka, her friend, neighbor and walking partner of 20 years, is waiting for her.
"Walking with somebody, I'm really held accountable," said Fleschler. "I know someone is waiting for me."
Mrzywka, who works as a food scientist, agrees.
"We're what keeps each other honest about walking," she said.
"When Karen and I first started, we would do more hiking," Mrzywka recalled. "We used to do the Pleasanton Ridge, Mission Peak, Las Trampas. But hiking is harder on the knees so we haven't done that in years."
They now head out from their Del Prado neighborhood in Pleasanton and walk along the Arroyo del Valle for a total of about three miles.
"We used to walk the Koll Center but it was freezing, and moss on the sidewalk was slippery," Fleschler said. "I really love walking the creek."
"The arroyo is nicer," Mrzywka agreed. "It's 'back to nature.'"
"But it wouldn't matter where we were walking because we're busy talking," she added with a laugh. "We talk about whatever's going on in our lives."
Mrzywka started walking with another neighbor 25 years ago, then Fleschler joined them. The other woman moved to Livermore, but the two kept on walking.
"I like walking with just one person. We're kind of the same pace -- and we fit on the sidewalk," said Fleschler. "We used to walk in the rain but we don't do that any more."
"I've tried to walk by myself but there are more excuses not to walk," she added. "Plus I don't listen to music or anything when I walk so it's really nice talking to somebody."
Maria Carter, 63, likes her walking group of five. The women meet in their neighborhood in the late afternoon four times a week to walk three miles, then on Saturday mornings they take a longer walk.
"I like the fact that everyone is sharing ideas and current events," Carter said, noting that with five people, one of them always has information on any given subject. "I like the variety. It can be two or five."
The women, who met about 30 years ago in a neighborhood babysitting co-op, have been walking for 17 years, as their lives and work schedules change.
"We've seen each other through kids at college, weddings, deaths of parents, husbands losing jobs," Carter said. "We also share health tips."
W. Ron Sutton is determined to get Pleasanton residents walking to improve their health. He has created the World Walk to Wellness and believes he can get people walking around the globe, community by community.
Sutton's group has been sponsoring weekly walks at Pleasanton parks for the past two months.
"Everyone finds something new about every park," he remarked.
Tomorrow, veteran hiker Dolores Bengtson is leading a two-hour walk along Pleasanton trails, mostly wide gravel paths, to acquaint people with walking options in town. Bengtson, who is well known for her long career with the city's Parks and Community Services Department, has been leading walks for years.
"It's soothing to be outside walking," Bengtson said.
She calculates that she had led 5,000 hikers on trails in Augustin Bernal Park over the years and, she added, she hopes all these hikers will follow her example of carrying a bag to collect litter along the way.
"So often we see a can or a bottle," she said. "Don't think of it as someone else's litter. Don't be judgmental."
Tomorrow's walk will start at 9 a.m. from the south parking lot of the Tennis and Community Park, on Valley Avenue at Hopyard. Bengtson will lead the group across the pedestrian bridge to the north side of the Pleasanton Canal, then head west to Arroyo de la Laguna, south along the arroyo trail to Arroyo del Valle, east to Pleasanton Valley, then loop back to the tennis park.
"Come prepared to explore Pleasanton from a new angle, from the banks of our arroyos and canal," Bengtson said. "This walk on the well-maintained service roads along the arroyos will open up an entire new world to you.
"For sure I'll fill you in about 'Pleasanton and water!' and, with some luck, we'll see ducks, herons, and egrets," she continued. "Wear comfortable shoes. Bring along some water and dress in layers. If it looks like it might rain, bring a raincoat. For 'new walkers' -- don't sweat it -- the trail is flat, and we'll go at a comfortable pace. Most of all, be prepared to be amazed and surprised at how much you will enjoy the morning."
"If the rain is not falling sideways, I'll still be out, staying active, in the rain," Sutton added. "We can still walk 'n' talk and have fun. We can dry off later."
Future World Walk to Wellness group trail walks led by Bengtson are planned for March 19 at Callippe Preserve City Golf Course Trail and April 9 at the Marilyn Kane Trail, both Saturdays, and both beginning at 9 a.m. Walkers are encouraged to sign up by emailing walks@WorldWalkToWellness.org but advance registration is not required.
Sutton, president of ACCUSPLIT, makers of pedometers and stopwatches, is hoping to establish Walking to Wellness in every time zone around the world by Dec. 31 so that the year 2012 will be greeted with around-the-world walking. He emphasizes that not only will members have a fun way to exercise but it will help them connect with one another.
These walkers also can make contributions to worthy causes at their events, and ACCUSPLIT matches individuals' donations of up to $20. In Pleasanton the cause is Pleasanton Partnerships in Education Foundation, and, so far, World Walk to Wellness has raised $6,000 for PPIE, including matching funds.
Bengtson and Sutton are hoping that once people discover walking, they won't be able to stop.
"People don't want to hear the word 'exercise,'" Sutton said. "The percentage of people who exercise hasn't changed since the '50s, and we've spend millions on research."
"The No. 1 excuse is they don't have time," he noted.
Sutton quoted Dr. James Hill from the University of Colorado, who started the America on the Move Foundation. Hill urged people to cut 100 calories per day out of their diet and to add 2,000 steps to maintain their weight, since the average American gains 2 pounds per year.
Sutton also would like to see people integrate walking into their daily lives. Wouldn't it be wonderful, he asked, if the new Safeway put its parking lot a block away from the store? Shouldn't companies give an employee of the month a special spot far away to make them walk more and improve their health?
Bengtson said she travels to many countries in Africa and is amazed by their walking culture.
"They are stunningly different, the way they walk," she said. "When we'd get back to where we were staying in the evening, they'd say, 'Let's go downtown,' and we'd walk three miles to downtown."
Although Bengtson enjoys walking trails, mountains and hillsides, both she and Sutton also advocate walking close to home.
"People too often think they need to go someplace; no, they don't," Bengtson said. "We need to tune into our own neighborhood. When people use their neighborhood, they take better care of it."
She noted that Pleasanton's arroyos have become cleaner and more pleasant during recent years when trails have been added alongside of them.
Sutton says he rises at 5:30 a.m. each morning to take a walk by himself.
"It's my thinking time," he said, adding that often ideas will come to him. "I bring along my electronic notebook."
Karen Fleschler noted that her brain, too, continues to work while she is walking.
"Sometimes I'm walking in the morning when in the middle of a painting and my brain is thinking about the painting," she said. "A lot of times sharing it with Julie helps. We talk about it."
She's always enjoyed walking, she said, and in high school used to walk by herself from her home in Piedmont all the way to Lake Merritt.
"I didn't look at it as exercise, just something to do on a sunny Saturday afternoon," she recalled. "I would take a book and find a spot on the lake."
"Walking back home was all uphill and back then I didn't notice it," she added. "Now, forget it, I'd take the bus."
Unless she was walking -- and talking -- with a friend.