In May of 1999, Joanne Quinn was diagnosed with lung cancer. She ultimately lost a lung, and feared her quality of life was destined for a downward spiral.
But Monday morning, Quinn had a smile on her face as she walked briskly, lap after lap, as part of the Arthritis Foundation’s Walk with Ease program.
“Here I am, 13 years later. I signed up last fall and I barely got around the track three times. I was really winded,” she said. “By the end, I was doing seven laps. Every week I told myself, ‘You’re going to do one more lap.’”
And she did. Quinn has kept up with that challenge, walking up to two miles multiple times per week.
“It’s meant a lot to me. Even my respiratory doctor thinks my one lung is better than some people that have two,” she said, adding, “it’s very exciting for me.”
The Cranston Senior Center’s Walk with Ease program kicked off for the fall session this week. Three days a week for six weeks, seniors will meet at the Cranston West track for about an hour, walking the track along with at least three trained staff members from the Center.
Rebecca Farnlof, the associate vice president of public health and advocacy for the New England region of the Arthritis Foundation, said that Quinn’s story is one of many examples of success.
“At the end of the six weeks, they’ll all come back with these amazing stories,” she said.
The program was initially funded through a grant from Tufts Health Plan, allowing Senior Center staff to recruit 15 participants last fall and provide them with a pedometer and a guidebook with tips on how to get in shape and how to manage arthritis pain and symptoms.
“It was a dream come true,” Farnlof said.
A second session was held in the spring due to the popularity, and this fall, the program has attracted even more participants.
“We have about 25 people now, and we walk with them at their ability level,” said Mary-Lou Pearson, RN, the wellness coordinator for the Cranston Senior Center.
The Arthritis Foundation is the largest national non-profit organization dedicated solely to the prevention, control and cure of arthritis. The agency is hoping to reduce the number of people with arthritis by 20 percent by 2030.
The Walk with Ease program was created using evidence-based strategies aimed at reducing pain, increasing balance and strength, building confidence and improving overall health for people with arthritis. Walk with Ease is currently in place at six senior centers and hospitals across the state, and the Foundation has other programs in place statewide.
“They’re nationally developed and tested strategies,” Farnlof said. “Rhode Island was one of the first places to offer some evidence for this program.”
Transvan brings some participants directly from the Senior Center, while others drive their own cars to the track. Before getting started, the staff helps participants to stretch and warm up. Cranston West provides the perfect location, as the level one track is easy on the joints.
“I normally don’t walk with anyone because I’m at my own pace,” Quinn said. “We’re not in a race here; we’re here for exercise.”
Pearson says having someone else to walk with is a big motivator.
“If you do something alone, you can always find an excuse not to do it,” she said. “Here, they build a support system. They want to stay healthy.”
More than that, she added, the program can improve attitudes and brighten the lives of these seniors who deal with chronic pain.
“Some of it is just socialization. They’re a little more rosy. When you have chronic pain, you tend to isolate yourself,” she said.
Many of the walkers have already forged friendships. The Arthritis Foundation has been working with the Cranston Senior Center for many years, mediating an Arthritis Support Group and running an exercise class tailored to the needs of arthritis patients. Now that Walk with Ease is in full swing, the exercise program has been moved to the winter, giving people with arthritis opportunities to exercise in a group for the majority of the year, with the exception of summer months.
Farnlof said one of the most important components is teaching the seniors to know their limits and understand their bodies.
“You’re not competing against anybody. We try to teach people a few ways to measure their intensity, and people are starting to learn more about their own bodies,” she said. “The goal is to help people feel confident that they can manage their symptoms.”
More aware of their bodies and motivated to manage their condition, these seniors now look forward to the program, and without being asked tell Pearson about their independent workout regimes.
“Some of them are very disciplined. They’re really committed to it,” she said.
Often times, students from West run past the seniors during gym class. Pearson says the exposure has been beneficial to both groups.
“For the seniors, I tell them that the students can’t believe our age group and that we are out here walking. It’s co-inspiring,” she said.
The seniors inspire each other as well, sharing the stories of how much they improve at the Senior Center and in the Arthritis Support Group. As she walked Monday, Marilyn McCabe said she loves being a part of the program.
“I love it. I don’t want it to end,” she said.
For more information, visit www.arthritis.org. The Walk with Ease program meets Monday, Wednesday and Friday at the Cranston West track from 10 to 11 a.m.