Heading the charge up a steep incline on Astoria’s hilly southern side, Steven Blakesley leads a trailing collection of county employees like a Pied Piper of fitness.

The county’s healthy communities educator walks every day during his break from work. The only days he doesn’t walk is when the weather is foul – really foul.

“The rain has to be going sideways,” he says.

But as the weather changes from gloomy to sunny, Blakesley has unveiled a series of “walking maps” as part of a program started May 1 he hopes will convince people to take 30 minutes out of the workday to walk.

Though the maps are currently tailored to county employees, with each of the seven routes starting from the county’s offices on Duane Street, Blakesley says he believes the maps could work for any Astoria–based employer.

The walking maps don’t have to be linked exclusively to the county and its employers, Blakesley says. His idea for the walking maps is to motivate people to think about getting up and moving during the day.

He says he’d like to see more companies promote healthy workplace activities. After all, the Institute of Medicine Tuesday released a report on obesity prevention. The 480-page report states that two-thirds of all American adults are overweight or obese, along with one-third of children. The cost associated with all of that extra heft is $190.2 million a year.

One of the report’s findings is that physical activity has to be an “integral and routine part of life.” And walking daily fits the bill.

While walking through residential neighborhoods Monday, Blakesley was trying to promote workday activity. By his side, and slightly behind him, were a handful of county employees out for a noonday walk.

“You haven’t been able to shake me yet, Steve,” says Mike Robison, the county’s director of central services, as his sneakers bounce off the pavement. Robison has been walking every day since 2004.

He started walking to lose some extra weight, but his daily constitutionals probably helped save his life.

In 2005, Robison underwent open heart surgery after a visit to the doctor. He was encountering shortness of breath and pain while he was walking. Robison’s doctor discovered extremely high cholesterol levels in his heart, with the left main coronary artery 95 percent blocked, and recommended heart surgery.

Robison kept up his daily walks after the procedure, and now he feels great. “I consider myself very healthy,” he says. “I don’t have any lingering pain.”

Because of his health concerns, Robison walks for 45 to 50 minutes a day during his lunch break, before spending a scant 10 minutes eating lunch at his desk.

Others have more recently taken up walking. Renae Murphy, a staff assistant at the Clatsop County Sheriff’s Office, started her regular walks Jan. 2.

It wasn’t part of a New Year’s resolution, she says, but rather part of something more permanent.

“I needed a change in my life,” she says. The walking maps were “a nice addition,” she adds.

At the county, many employees signed up to participate through the Shape Up Across Oregon program, which promotes physical fitness and proper nutrition.

Susan Farmer brought the Shape Up Across Oregon program to the county. As the county’s human resources assistant, Farmer recommended that the county’s work site wellness committee sign onboard. She says there’s a practical reason for promoting physical activity at the workplace.

“Overall, we want to keep health care costs low,” Farmer says.

County employees will participate in the program until the end of September. It calls for participants to exercise for 30 to 60 minutes a day. At the end of the program, participants will walk the length of the Astoria Bridge – all 4.1 miles of it.

Though the maps might not be of much help to people who don’t work near the county building, Blakesley says he hopes people find their own walking routes near wherever they work. As an avid walker who’s struck by how many narrow paths, passageways, ramps and stairways there are in Astoria, Blakesley is already thinking about expanding the maps to incorporate those unique city characteristics.

It’s all about staying active.

People are more sedentary nowadays, Blakesley says, because they’re tied down to their workstations. Even a little after-work workout won’t do much good for people who stay planted on their rumps all day.

“If you sit at your desk for the day, and then go for a run after work, you’re not diminishing the effect of sitting at your desk all day,” Blakesley says. “You have to get up and move during the day.”

A walking enthusiast, Blakesley can easily rattle off all the benefits of walking: It provides cardiovascular activity, tones muscles and keeps one’s metabolism going.

More than all of that, Blakesley says, there’s one real secret to walking: “It’s just enjoyable.”

 

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