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Steppin’ out…the secret to a healthy heart

Jun 22, 2018 11:58AM ● Published by Ben Scott

Kristina Kaniauskaite, officer manager and Sam Alonzo, president of Westmont Special Events join Jinny Szymski, village clerk, to start walking.

From the time before we are born through the final stage of life, the secret to a healthier, happier life is simple…just keep moving. Studies have shown that exercise during pregnancy (walking!) can result in a healthier heart for mother and baby (parent.com).  At the other end of life, regular walking exercises can improve memory, relieve depression, help maintain balance, and make for an overall happier life in old age. For those of us fortunate enough to be able to walk, there is no excuse.  Whatever age you are, get out and get moving.

The best news is that you don’t have to be an athlete to be fit.  And, you live in a community that embraces an active lifestyle for young and old.  In fact, a group of Westmont residents will be combining walking exercise with one of DuPage County’s more popular events…Westmont Cruisin’ Nights (cover photo).  Kristina Kaniauskaite,Westmont Special Events officer manager and Jinny Szymski, Village Clerk are organizing “Steppin’ at the Street Fair,” a smart way to get heart healthy while enjoying a popular event. 

“We’re always looking for new ways to improve our events,” said Larry McIntyre, Westmont Special Events Volunteer and Publicity Chair. “This year, we decided to add a fitness component to our Cruisin’ Nights and Street Fair events.  With so many people using fitbits and other programs to count their steps, we’ve created a new program – “Steppin’ at the Street Fair.”

Each week at Westmont Cruisin’ Nights, participants will sign in at the Cruisin’ Nights Info Tent at Cass and Norfolk at 6 p.m.  Then the group will see how many steps they get in over the next hour.  At 7 p.m., participants will check back in and report how many steps they recorded.  Participants will be eligible for prizes and raffles.  “This will be fun for all ages,” said Village Clerk Jinny Szymski, who is an avid walker and health enthusiast.  “I’m really looking forward to this new event.  I can’t wait.”  If you’re interested in participating in Steppin’ at the Street Fair contact Westmont Special Events at wsec@westmontevents.com or 630-829-9378.

Spinning off this great idea, summer events like the Taste of Westmont in July are perfect opportunities for doing some “steppin’ at the street fair.”  You’ll find great food, live entertainment, fun rides, and lots of walking.

When Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky of McMaster University studied the affect of exercise on mice, the results were incredible. Over the course of five months, Tarnopolsky and his team examined mice with a genetic disease that caused them to age prematurely. Half of the mice were coaxed to run three times a week on a treadmill, while the other half remained sedentary. At the end of the study, the inactive mice were barely hanging on, while the mice that exercised were nearly indistinguishable from healthy mice.

"Many people falsely believe that the benefits of exercise will be found in a pill,” Tarnopolsky said. “We have clearly shown that there is no substitute for the “real thing” of exercise when it comes to protection from aging.” (mcmaster.ca)

A Time article titled “The New Science of Exercise” featuring Tarnopolsky’s study concluded that “the consequences of a sedentary life are as well documented as they are dire. People with low levels of physical activity are at higher risk for many different kinds of cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease and early death by any cause.”

Luckily, the Westmont Park District offers many options for people of all ages to stay in motion and protect their health.  Here are some of the special program listed on the Park District website (these programs change, so be sure to visit the website or call the Park Districut for current program information).  BOOT CAMP: a multi-level physical conditioning class for the mind and body. These classes will safely and effectively burn calories and firm you up with strength exercise, stability exercises, calisthenics, cardiovascular exercise, speed work, endurance work and plyometrics. BOSU BODY BLAST: a cardio segment to warm up your major muscles just in time to get you ready for a challenging and invigorating strength segment on the stability ball. Improve your posture, stamina, strength and coordination all in one class. GENTLE YOGA: Challenging poses to work up a sweat. INTERMEDIATE YOGA: Seated and standing positions to improve strength & balance.  SHAPE UP: a complete workout with interval-training techniques, cardiovascular endurance and strength training. Shape Up includes a fun mix of step, hand weights, bands, tubing and balls. Your muscles will be constantly guessing. Participants can make the class low or high impact. ZUMBA: features interval training sessions where fast and slow rhythms and resistance training are combined to tone and sculpt your body while burning fat. No dance experience or stepping memorization necessary.  All fitness classes are free to members. Typically, classes are 60 minutes unless otherwise indicated. All fitness levels are accommodated in every class, thinking you can’t do it is no excuse.

The Club Pilates in Westmont is a new addition to the healthy options in this community.  Pilates teaches body awareness, good posture and easy, graceful movement.  “I’m excited to bring Club Pilates to Westmont,” said Kristin Kohn. “Pilates is an exercise that’s for anyone of any age or body type. I encourage local residents to experience what our Club Pilates studio has to offer.”

While there are many ways to stay active locally, studies show that only 20% of Americans get the recommended 150 minutes of strength and cardiovascular physical activity per week, while more than half of all baby boomers report doing no exercise whatsoever.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), one of the simplest positive changes you can make to improve your heart health is to start walking. For overall cardiovascular health, the AHA recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least five days per week, along with moderate-to-high intensity muscle-strengthening activity at least two days per week. For people looking to lower their blood pressure and cholesterol, the AHA recommends an average of 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity three or four times per week

Neighbors of Westmont publisher Kate Sullivan maintains her health through regular walking, and makes exercising fun and challenging by competing in Fitbit walking challenges.

“My goal is 10,000 steps each day,” Sullivan said. “I watch my diet and try to get seven hours of sleep. I feel better about myself and have good stamina.  Recent knee surgery has been a bump in the road, but my regular walking routine has helped me along to a speedy recover.”

There are many research studies being done on the benefits of exercise on cognitive health, and preliminary results indicate that physical exercise, especially aerobic exercise, can play a significant role in preventing or slowing dementia and cognitive decline.

At Burgess Square in Westmont, clients are encouraged to participate in exercise programs and walking.  Studies have shown that as many as 74% of seniors who exercise regularly in senior care facilities improved their scores on a standardized geriatric depression scale.

Regular exercise eases depression and anxiety by releasing feel-good endorphins, natural cannabis-like brain chemicals and other natural brain chemicals that enhance feelings of well-being (mayoclinic.org). According to an article published by Harvard Medical School, low-intensity exercise sustained over time also spurs the release of proteins which cause nerve cells to grow and make new connections; nerve cell growth in the hippocampus (the region of the brain that helps regulate mood) helps relieve depression.

In addition to improving heart and brain health, exercise has been shown to reduce the risk for a number of cancers, including colon and breast cancer. As reported by cancer.gov, physical activity mitigates the risks of cancer in part by lowering the levels of hormones, such as insulin and estrogen, that have been associated with cancer development and progression. Exercise also has a beneficial effect on the immune and surveillance systems that detect and kill cancer cells.

In and around Westmont there are countless opportunities to get out and move.  The DuPage Forest Preserve offers places for quiet contemplative walks and programs, like their Forest Fitness Walks at Greene Valley.  DuPage County.  FIT4MOM (dupagecounty.fit4mom.com) gives women the "Strength for Motherhood" by providing classes and support for moms in every stage of motherhood.  Wrapping up the summer, Westmont will be host to Run/Walk for Prostate Cancer Awareness, a 5K run, September 9.

So, whatever you are doing this summer, wherever you are, keep moving.  If you are having a picnic with your family, make walking a part of it.  Heading out for a summer concert that’s a mile or two from home?  Walk there.  Going to the Arboretum?  Don’t drive thru…got out of the car and walk around.  Planning a vacation?  Make walking a “must do” part of the plan.  Think of festivals and art fairs as opportunities to walk and play.  “The “Steppin’ at the Street Fair” could be more than a new weekly event in Westmont; it could be your summer motto.

Editors note:  Send us your “walking” or exercise photos for “Westmont on the Move.”  Email photos to newsroom@neighborsmagazines.com.

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