CEDAR FALLS — Every Tuesday night a small group of neighbors gathers on a street corner near their homes for a weekly walk.
Some weeks there are as many six walkers. Sometimes there is only one.
“It’s hard to commit every week because people do have things that come up. We just have the corner where we meet and whoever is there goes. If nobody is there, then you walk by yourself,” said Luann Alemao-Johnson, a member of the Cedar Falls Blue Zones Project leadership team and coordinator of her neighborhood’s walking group.
Forming or joining a walking group is just one of the many things that Waterloo and Cedar Falls residents are being encouraged to do as part of the Blue Zones commitment. Moai (pronounced Mo Eye) walking groups are groups of up to 10 people that meet at least once a week to walk. According to the Blue Zones website the small size of the group allows members to focus on building strong friendships, which are as vital to well-being as exercise. Finding a social circle, or moai, of friends who possess positive traits “will do more to add years to your life than just about anything else,” the website states.
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Alemao helped organize the WYBOC walking group — the letters are an acronym for the neighborhood’s street names — this summer. Though her neighborhood was already pretty active, she said starting a walking group in any neighborhood would be easy enough.
“I just put signs up for those who were interested in walking. I emailed people. I called them, and we put it on our neighborhood’s Facebook page,” Alemao said. “If you don’t already have that group, just ask some neighbors and tell them to bring a friend along or anyone else in the neighborhood that might want to be a part of it.”
Greg Hankins, a member of St. John Lutheran Church, started a Wednesday night Run with God program last spring, but after injuring his knee decided that walking with God might be more appropriate. Though the group hasn’t formally been designated as a Blue Zones walking moai, Hankins said the church was one of numerous Cedar Valley locations that signed up to host a Healthiest State Walk in October.
Hankins said the program, which coincides with other Wednesday night church events, draws between seven and 15 participants. He talked with church leaders about adding the group to the menu of church events and had a good response from the beginning.
“It is a great way to get in touch with our fitness and to interact as a community, our church community,” he said. Hankins also finds scripture references to an individual’s walk with God to use as weekly devotionals. Participating in a faith-based community, regardless of the religion, is one of the Power 9 principles behind the Blue Zones concept.
Area retirement communities are also engaging in the Blue Zones effort. Amanda Lynch, the wellness coordinator at the Western Home communities, said she is starting In Motion Clubs later this month at each of the Western Home. Though the program is voluntary Lynch is expecting a good turnout. The group will encourage participants using all modes of transportation, not just walkers.
“We have a very wide range of abilities in our population and not everyone can walk. I don’t want to exclude anyone from this,” she said. “The social and mental benefits of being a part of that tribe are so important. Everybody here are neighbors. Now they will have that half hour every week where they can spend some quality time with each other.”