UBCO takes steps to create healthy lives for seniors

Walk n’ Talk is the brainchild of Dr. Charlotte Jones, associate professor of medicine with UBCO’s Southern Medical Program.

Marguerite Burke, 80, led a rather sedentary life until she heard about UBC Okanagan’s Walk n’ Talk for Your Life program.

Initially joining to get out and meet people, Burke soon realized the twice-weekly walks increased her activity level and her sense of well-being. As a bonus, she made new friends.

Walk n’ Talk is the brainchild of Dr. Charlotte Jones, associate professor of medicine with UBCO’s Southern Medical Program.

Jones’ team consists of UBC students from several disciplines, including the Southern Medical Program, nursing, human kinetics, social work and psychology.

The group hosts regular discussions about health concerns; and leads twice-weekly community walks.

Jones is the principal investigator of the research study that accompanies Walk n’ Talk.

Central Okanagan residents aged 55 and older are encouraged to participate in the program, which involves some physical activity.

Based on New Zealand’s Otago Exercise program, it’s designed specifically to prevent falls by introducing leg-muscle strengthening, balance exercises and a regular walking routine.

“It’s a valid program for seniors and we find if they include the walk—for about 30 minutes at least three times a week at their own pace and ability—it’s a great step in leading them to a healthy lifestyle,” said Jones.

“There are a lot of seniors in this area who live isolated lives and getting them involved in a program like this goes a long way to improve their quality of life.”

Burke lives independently with her husband but wanted to meet more like-minded people. She was hesitant at first, concerned about adopting a new exercise routine. She says Walk n’ Talk has certainly improved the quality of her life.

“This has helped me get back on my feet,” Burke said.

“At my age, I want to be able to continue to enjoy walks and being able to find new people to walk with has been a wonderful experience.”

Second-year UBC medical student Celine Akyurekli is one of several students helping with the interdisciplinary research project.

She assists in exercise programs, teaches education modules and is collecting data. She too enjoys her Thursday morning walks with seniors at the Heritage Retirement Residence in West Kelowna.

“The social aspect of this is very important,” Akyurekli said. “We’re able to connect people together and they’re making the commitment to come out each week so they can visit while they enjoy their walk. It’s wonderful to see friendships develop.”

Registration is free for Walk n’ Talk. The next session takes place at Global Fitness (1574 Harvey Ave. in Kelowna) starting Jan. 7.

Participants begin the 10-week session with an interview and basic health testing (blood pressure, hearing, mobility function, grip strength test, walking pace), before and after the program.

It will be the fourth edition of Walk n’ Talk in the community and while it’s early to analyze the data, Jones is encouraged by preliminary numbers.

“We have had a few participants who were quite sedentary and withdrawn. They have come back to us and told us that their whole life has been turned around by the program,” said Jones.

To register for the next session, call project coordinator Chella Percy at 250-807-8042 or email chella.percy@ubc.ca.