Sometimes the first step to healthy living is just that – a first step.
Physicians have long touted the benefits of putting one foot in front of the other. Increased muscle strength, lowered blood pressure and reduced stress are just a few reasons to take the stairs, or grab a lunchbreak lap.
But many in the Sacramento area have taken the idea further, making walking a way of life through an activity called volksmarching.
Originally conceived in Germany, volksmarching is a form of volkssports, or “sports of the people.” It’s a non-competitive group walk, often from one place of historical or cultural significance to another.
The Sacramento Walking Sticks, a local affiliate of the American Volkssport Association, is the biggest volkswalking group in the country with more than 550 members. They hold walks year-round in all of the city’s nooks and crannies, be it an “ice cream walk” from Vic’s to Gunther’s or a stroll through the Fab 40’s. They team up with other local clubs such as the Placer Pacers and the Davis Dynamos to offer routes through more rural terrain.
“If you can go to the state fair or go to Disneyland, you can easily do our walk,” said Barbara Nuss, president of the Sticks. “When you’re engrossed in a conversation, you find yourself going further and faster whether you mean to or not ... . It’s much, much easier than being in the gym.”
Per AVA rules, the walks are 10 kilometers long (about 6.2 miles), with a 5K (3.1-mile) option, and accessible to all levels. Walkers go at their own pace, chatting with other members and taking breaks when needed, often taking a jaunt to a local eatery at the finish.
There are two types of walks: events scheduled by the club, or solo walks available year-round. Interested participants need only visit SacramentoWalkingSticks.org for a full list of scheduled events, solo starting points and route directions.
Dr. Chris Palkowski, physician in chief at the Kaiser Permanente Roseville Medical Center, said he recommends a 30-minute walk five days per week for his older clients, depending on their condition. Walking lowers cholesterol, helps burn off sugars in the blood steam and keeps everything in the body moving, he said.
“It burns calories – and not only while you're walking,” he said. “It raises your metabolic rate and when that’s increased, you burn more calories even when you're resting or asleep.”
Sacramento resident Phil Medlin, who walks regularly with the Sticks, said he and his wife have each lost 35 pounds since picking up the habit and changing their diets.
Beyond that, they’ve seen sights they would have never found without the well-mapped AVA routes, he said. The pair, both in their 60’s, have volksmarched in 27 California counties in the past year, and hope to do as many in the year to come.
On one December day last year, they joined Nuss on a flight to Southern California to do the only AVA walk in Imperial County. They flew down, walked for an hour, and flew back that evening, after bumping into the Hopeville Carrot Festival along the way.
“It’s something the wife and I can do that gets us out of our neighborhood, because it’s boring,” Medlin said. “We usually walk Saturday or Sunday or both, and we usually just do the three mile. Sometimes we don’t feel like being sociable so we just walk the two of us, but sometimes we do feel like being social.”
The Sticks have established about 40 Sacramento sightseeing routes, which are free and available to the public year-round.
Phil Jones, president of the California Volkssporting Association, said the Northern California volksmarch groups have the benefit of a diverse terrain for their walk offerings.
“What’s really interesting about this whole area is within an hour you can (walk) almost in any kind of terrain, whether it’s walking in an urban location or on a river or a lake,” he said. “You can have different experiences within a relatively short drive, and you’re never doing the same thing.”
BENEFITS OF WALKING
Of the many physical activites you can do to improve your health, research shows that walking has the lowest dropout rate of them all. Furthermore, research has shown that at least 30 minutes of walking a day can help you:
▪ Reduce the risk of coronary heart disease
▪ Improve blood pressure and blood sugar levels
▪ Improve blood lipid profile
▪ Maintain body weight and lower the risk of obesity
▪ Enhance mental well being
▪ Reduce the risk of osteoporosis
▪ Reduce the risk of breast and colon cancer
▪ Reduce the risk of non-insulin dependent (type 2) diabetes
From the American Heart Association