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Salem Program Demonstrates Walking Together Improves Health

Just Walk Salem has garnered support from community partners, volunteers, the South Salem Neighborhood Association and Salem Health.
January 29, 2016

With all the advances in healthcare and technology, something as simple as walking can make a difference in one’s physical and mental health. Just Walk Salem is a grassroots network of weekly neighborhood walking groups started by Jennifer Carley in 2012 to improve health and foster community connectedness.

A psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, Carley’s enthusiasm has mushroomed into a city-wide program that’s attracted the attention of community partners, volunteers, the South Salem Neighborhood Association and Salem Health.

It’s grown from a couple of walks every week in the South Salem area to 16 walks all over the city. Nearly 1,500 people have participated since last April.

With funding of $49,940 from Salem Health, a part-time coordinator was hired to expand the program into all six high school feeder neighborhoods in Salem-Keizer.

“Salem Health has been a great partner in providing financial support,” said Carley.

Recently, Salem Health made another $25,000 commitment to expand the program. Very soon, there’ll be walking groups in Salem’s 18 neighborhoods and another three in Keizer so every resident can join a walk.

“High quality, sustainable programs that support the mission of Salem Health are critical to the communities we serve,” said Sharon Heuer, director of community benefit for Salem Health.

“During this second year of funding from Salem Health, we’ll be focused on expanding to new neighborhoods, developing additional partnerships with local businesses to support people walking, and doing more education about the benefits of walking for chronic disease prevention and mental health,” said Skye Hibbard, Just Walk Salem’s program coordinator.

A survey conducted last fall found that social connectedness had the biggest impact on walkers. People also said they were walking more frequently, farther, and faster and had more energy, had lost weight, slept better and felt better about themselves. Of the participants, 95 percent intend to continue walking with the group.

“I’ve watched people get healthier, become friends with one another, and step into leadership roles,” Carley said. “Even those who might not have seemed to have a lot of social contact and had serious health problems (before joining a walking group) have stepped up.”

Most people join their walks because of the health benefits but soon find themselves part of a community, said Pat Norman, who co-leads a walking group with Salem City Councilor Warren Bednarz.

“These walks evolve into little communities as we get to know one another.” Norman said. “And. when you are out with people and out in the air, the mental health benefits are obvious.”

Joanne can be reached at [email protected].