Avid walkers tout benefits of keeping fit while cultivating familiarity with Lawrence

photo by: Laurie Comstock

Two women in Laurie Comstock's walking group head east on Clinton Parkway as the sun rises in Lawrence.

Rod Kummer used to be a big runner — marathons, the whole bit. Now he’s a big walker.

True, he’s 70 and his joints aren’t quite what they used to be, but that’s not the main reason he has slowed his pace.

The main reason is a realization, shared by many in the wellness community, that walking is maybe the single best exercise for your body — and your spirit.

“There is probably no exercise that provides as many health benefits and that is as easy to do for so many than walking,” said Aynsley Anderson Sosinski, a wellness specialist at LMH Health.

photo by: Mike Yoder/Journal-World

Rod Kummer is an enthusiastic walker who recently finished his project of walking every street in Lawrence. One of his favorite aspects of the activity is that it engages every sense while also keeping him fit.

Kummer, who moved to Lawrence a few years ago from Montana, had always been the type to walk rather than drive when possible, but it wasn’t until he was recuperating from back surgery in January 2020 that he became a truly avid walker. At first it was the only exercise that he could manage, but soon enough it became the exercise he preferred.

By June of this year, he had walked literally every street in Lawrence, using the City Strides app to map his progress. He had also lost 18 pounds.

“I just feel so much better too,” he said. “You just feel better after you walk. It’s hard to get people to understand who don’t want to walk how good it does make you feel.”

Perhaps his favorite thing about walking is the wholeness of the experience.

“People think walking is just walking, but you’re actually engaging all your senses,” he said, citing the variety of smells, sounds and sights you encounter on a walk — things that don’t always register when you’re running.

For Kummer, walking all the streets of Lawrence has also familiarized him with his new city — to which he moved to be closer to his kids. He has now, in some sense, seen everything — and every season.

“Winters are so nice in Kansas,” he said, “so mild. It’s really enjoyable walking then.” (Before you laugh, remember he’s from Montana).

Sosinski, the wellness expert, echoes Kummer’s enthusiasm for walking. It’s great physically, for weight maintenance, strengthening bones and muscles, cardiovascular health and more, but it’s also hard to beat in terms of mental wellness — as it increases energy levels, reduces stress and gets people outdoors.

It can also get people together, she notes, which is one of the things that Laurie Comstock enjoys about the activity. Comstock, who lives between Lawrence and Baldwin City, routinely walks several miles a day with friends.

“Everybody is so busy, and if you have people you walk with on a regular basis, you really get some good time with people,” she said. “You can solve problems; you can bounce ideas off each other.”

Additionally, having a walking buddy or two can help with that little extra motivation when you need it.

“Knowing that someone’s expecting you to show up at a certain time, it makes it easy to get into the habit and to do it even on those days when you wake up and think ‘I don’t really feel like getting up yet,'” she said.

photo by: Submitted by Laurie Comstock

Laurie Comstock, foreground, is pictured on one of her many walks through Lawrence. Comstock has walked every street in Lawrence.

Comstock, 62, like Kummer, has made the switch from avid runner to avid walker, for many of the same reasons.

She has also completed — and recommends — the City Strides program. For anyone who likes to walk, the goal “makes it a little bit more fun,” she said.

She had heard about the app from a friend, and when the pandemic hit last year, it seemed like the perfect time to give it a go.

So she got the free app and used it in conjunction with another free app called Strava to keep track of her progress.

“Walking is a different perspective on the world than running,” she said. Moving through every roadway — including every single cul-de-sac and dubious dead-end — at a walker’s pace was “really interesting,” Comstock said.

She has lived in this area for about 16 years, but hadn’t seen much of the city in the detail that her walks afforded.

“I feel like I know much more about the streets of Lawrence,” she said. “And now I can actually say to someone, ‘Hey, I’m sure I’ve walked by your house.'”

For both Kummer and Comstock, the experience of walking Lawrence inspired other trekking ideas.

Kummer thinks he’ll now tackle every walking trail in Lawrence, and Comstock tells her buddies that now they’ll conquer every street in Baldwin City, a project for which she acknowledges they’re not on board — yet.


HIT THE ROAD

The benefits of walking, according to Aynsley Anderson Sosinski, a wellness specialist at LMH Health, include:

• Helps to maintain a healthy weight and/or support weight and body fat loss.

• Can help to prevent or better manage several chronic conditions, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, several cancers, osteoporosis, arthritis and type 2 diabetes. May help to prevent or delay onset of some dementias, including Alzheimer’s.

• Can lead to an improvement in cardiovascular fitness. This is enhanced even more with the addition of walking poles (Nordic walking).

• Strengthens bones and muscles.

• Helps to improve your balance and coordination.

• Increases energy levels. (Much better than an energy drink, coffee or a sugary snack).

• Can improve mood, lessen anxiety and enhance cognitive functioning, including memory.

• Contributes to better-quality sleep.

• May lower incidence of cataracts and glaucoma.

• Strengthens the immune system.

• Reduces stress and tension.

• Can provide an opportunity for socialization if you walk with others or a chance for alone time.

• Allows time to enjoy the outdoors and nature.

• May improve quality and length of life and the ability to function independently for longer.

• Easy to do and requires no fees; all you need are good walking shoes and a safe place to walk.

Note: benefits are often “dose dependent.” That is, benefits are enhanced by an increase in the distance walked, speed of walking and the frequency with which one does it.

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