REFRESH Interviews WNY's "Walking Man"

REFRESH WalkingMan

Western New York’s walking man is gearing up for a new season of outdoor fitness, starting next week with National Walk at Lunch Day.

“Walking is the grand slam of physical activities,” said Philip L. Haberstro, executive director of the Wellness Institute of Greater Buffalo.

Haberstro will lead a walk at noon Wednesday starting and ending at The Buffalo News, Scott and Washington streets. A mini health fair will be set up in the lobby of The News during the hour beforehand. Both events are free. If you can’t make it, try to walk during your lunch break wherever you are.

The institute set a goal last year of 40 million steps in walking events it hosted and encouraged. With help of more than 36 million steps alone from Explore Buffalo  tours, the goal was surpassed by 1.5 million steps.

This year’s goal is 50 million steps. The institute is working with the Erie County Department of Health, the federal Health and Human Services Million Hearts campaign and the P2 Collaborative Steps to a Healthier WNY initiative, Haberstro said. The next Independent Health and Buffalo Bills Health and Wellness Challenge will have its first walking component, too.

“We're really fond of talking to the school districts and school boards and decision-makers about how physically active children are better learners” Haberstro said. “For children, it doesn't have to be high end, and kids can make walking a family affair when they go home. We have a great park system with the Olmsted parks in the city and with the county parks elsewhere.”

With the exception of Explore Buffalo – which charges modest fees for its tours – institute-encouraged events are free.

Q. What are the top benefits of walking?

There are social benefits to it – you can walk and talk. This is something older adults can do safely and well. There certainly is economic benefit to it. A study published last year in the Journal of the American Heart Association identified $2,500 a year in savings in medical spending between the physically active and inactive. That's a paramount benefit when you're looking at limited resources in a community. There are environmental benefits. If every trip starts with a step, and we can encourage more people to walk to the bus stop or walk to the bike stand, we're helping. There's a lower risk of chronic diseases including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and osteoporosis. It's also affordable. You should try to get 30 minutes of exercise five days a week, and walking can help you meet those minimum requirements.

Q. What will the National Walk at Lunch Day be like downtown?

We will go to Canalside. We'll stay off the road and enjoy the beauty of the park. The walk itself will be about 30, 35 minutes, which meets the dose of 30 minutes of recommended adult daily physical activity. Bring your umbrella if it rains because lightning is usually the only thing that scares me off the walking path.

Q. What are some of the featured institute events that will help you reach a goal of 50 million steps in 2017?

We're going to follow National Walk at Lunch Day with a series of four downtown walks, all at noon on Wednesdays from the Buffalo Niagara Visitor Center (403 Main St., alongside Lafayette Square). The fifth Wednesday in May starts our 15th year of noontime walks on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, starting and ending in Kaminski Park in front of Roswell Park Cancer Institute. We also do reflective walks the first Sunday morning of each month, starting at Marcy Casino in Delaware Park. Dennis Galucki branded that. You walk in quiet. We’ll have walks in county parks later in the summer. (All will be listed in WNY Refresh Calendar listings  at buffalonews.com/section/health-and-fitness and at the institute’s website, healthycommunitynetwork.com.

Q. What are some of the key things to bring with you when taking a walk?

As we head into the summer, it's important for folks to hydrate well with water before walking. That people wear a hat and sunscreen lotion – SPF 30 is the recommended number I hear from the dermatologists – and proper footwear.

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Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon