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Published: Tuesday, June 11, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Walking helps seniors improve their quality of life

  • Catherine Blackburn (left) and her husband, Don, take part in the Group Health's Walk and Talk program at Garfield Park in Everett on May 16.

    Nick Adams / The Herald

    Catherine Blackburn (left) and her husband, Don, take part in the Group Health's Walk and Talk program at Garfield Park in Everett on May 16.

When Donald Blackburn was diagnosed with congenital chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in summer 2008, he realized the lung disease could be a death sentence for him.
Instead, he took a different path.
He decided to improve his quality of life, by walking.
Now Blackburn takes his Respironics EverGo Portable Oxygen Concentrator and he and his wife, Catherine Blackburn, do laps around Garfield Park in Everett as part of Group Health's Walk and Talk program.
The Walk and Talk With Your Health Care Team is a new Group Health Medical Centers program that invites members and non-members to walk laps every week in a group setting that is led by a health care team member, such as a doctor or nurse or another medical staff person.
So while you walk, you can talk about health issues or get health tips from medical professionals.
Or get inspired by fellow walkers such as Donald Blackburn, who not only walks the walk, but talks the talk.
And the talk is about how important walking can be for your health.
"I try to get out and talk to other people who have COPD and other lung issues and I say to them, 'Look, we can get out and do things. We need to look at what we can do, not what we can't.'"
Catherine Blackburn is a licensed practical nurse in cardiology at the Everett Group Health Clinic. She, like many in the Walk and Talk program, proclaim the benefits of walking like a prophet.
"The more active you are, the better overall your cardiac status is going to be, along with your respiratory status," she said.
She has seen this improvement in her own husband, who never smoked yet developed COPD.
"Walking has really improved his physical, emotional and mental outlook but overall has improved his state of health, so walking is important," said Catherine, 63, who participates in Walk and Talk as a medical team member.
Donald, 67, chimed in: "I may not be in fantastic health but I'm getting out and getting busy and I'm in much better health now then I was five years ago."
The Walk and Talk program was organized by Dr. Rosemary Agostini, medical chief of Group Health's Activity, Sports and Exercise Medicine department, a new department that is promoting the concept of exercise as medicine.
"It's very exciting for me to get this going," Agostini said. "It feels like the right work on so many different levels."
She said having people show up to walk like Donald Blackburn with his oxygen concentrator or those who might use walkers also helps to break down barriers for people who might be shy or afraid to walk in public.
Also, Agostini said, when the health care team can see people in action, they can better evaluate a potential health concern by noticing a limp, shortness of breath or skin color.
Family medical doctor Eugene Ocampo also was among the walkers. He said the program helps break down other barriers as well.
"We dehumanize people in the medical system," Ocampo said. "We make them things and we make them diseases and you know we don't treat people like people.
"One thing people want is their dignity, especially when they're older. This is one way of keeping the dignity. We are all on even ground right here.
"We're walking together and we are no different from the patients we see.
"The traditional system has the practitioner on a pedestal and it denies the fact that that practitioner is also a person. So to see that practitioner as a person is very important."
The doctor believes that walking is no talisman to cure disease, but actually the real deal when it comes to beating the sickness system.
"I know if I keep walking I'll stay healthy; if I don't walk, I'll be sick," Ocampo said. "Old age its inevitable, but the stereotype of a person sitting in a chair, those are the people that die."
Death will have to catch up with Ray Irving.
He was walking and he meant business. He was going to top his record and do three miles.
At 78, Irving is trim, fit and hard to keep up with.
"I think it's a good program and every time I've been here, I talk to a doctor," Irving said.
Irving has no particular health issues and has been fit his whole life. He said he could do three miles pretty easily, as he sped around the path of Garfield Park like a 20-year-old.
Donald Blackburn knows he can't go at the pace he used to. But he also knows that it's not how fast he goes, but the day-to-day journey that matters.
"I find when I get out and get moving I feel better at the end of the day," Blackburn said. "I try to work out two to three times a week and sometimes it's not as easy as I like.
"On the other hand, I feel better because I've done it."
Theresa Goffredo: 425-339-3424;

Learn more
Group Health Medical Centers program The Walk and Talk With Your Health Care Team happens from 12:15 to 1 p.m. every Thursday at Garfield Park, 2300 Walnut St., Everett. The program is open to the public. For more information, go to
Story tags » EverettPreventative medicineWalking

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