Walk Across Illinois encourages residents to not ‘be a couch potato’

By Frank Radosevich II

by Frank Radosevich II

Staff writer

Usha Dhar may be 55 years old, but her high-spirited personality belies her age. Sprightly and cheery, Dhar, an administrative aide for the University, recalled her days as a top athlete in her native India. Active in sports since the age of eight, she represented her state and university athletic teams in track and field, as well as in Kho-Kho, a traditional Indian team sport.

After moving to America, though, she began to fall out of her old healthy habits.

“I was so busy with children and school,” Dhar said.

One day, by chance, she stumbled across a flier and discovered Walk Across Illinois, a new state program aimed at encouraging Illinois residents to improve their health by walking. According to its Web site, the year-long health initiative asks participants “to walk at least 167 miles, the equivalent of walking across Illinois from the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan.” Walk Across Illinois allows citizens to register and track their progress either online or at home.

“My husband and I, we have been walking since 2000,” Dhar said. “We walk everyday, four miles.”

Since she began tracking her walks in April, Dhar has logged and surpassed the 167 miles and has even begun lifting weights and running races. In the near future she hopes to return to India to compete once again at the state level for track and field events.

To date, Walk Across Illinois has more than 5,000 participants, with more than 1,000 of those hailing from the Champaign-Urbana and Decatur area. The project is free to the public and sponsored by the office of Lt. Governor Pat Quinn.

“Walk Across Illinois is a great way to improve your health one step at a time,” Lt. Gov. Quinn said. “No matter whether you’re young or old, walking is an easy and fun activity that everyone can do at their own pace.”

In a nation plagued by obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes, staying in shape has become a serious concern.

According to the Mayo Clinic, walking is a low-impact exercise which can reduce the risk of a heart attack and help manage blood pressure.

Not only can it improve one’s health, some say a short stroll can also change a bad mood. A University of Texas study published in 2005 found that people with major depressive disorders who walk on a treadmill for 30 minutes had more positive feelings for well-being and vigor. Moreover, two studies in the September, 2004 issue of “Journal of the American Medical Association” stated that walking and other physical activity in old age may reduce the risks of dementia and improve brain functions.

Walking can also be a social activity, allowing one to converse with friends and family or decompress after a long day of work.

With a new goal of 590 miles, Dhar, with her bright smile, couldn’t agree more.

“I don’t like to be a couch potato,” she said.