No one needs to convince 81-year-old Josephine Agusta how important walking is.

She’s been part of the UNC Health Care mall-walking program for its entire 10-year history, and has improved blood pressure numbers to prove it.

“I had very high blood pressure, and it went down,” the Durham resident said. “It’s extended my life.”

Agusta said her insurance company assumed she’d be dead by now, but she fooled them all.

“My insurance police said I’d be dead at 81,” she said. “And now I’m 81 – how’s that for exercise and walking!”

Agusta was one of nearly 200 mall walkers who gathered Wednesday morning at The Streets at Southpoint mall to mark the program’s 10th anniversary. With more than 1,200 members, it’s one of the largest in the nation.

Amazingly, Agusta’s plans for Wednesday included walking at the mall, then flying to Las Vegas later in the day, where she planned to “walk the strip.”

She’s not the only one who has enjoyed a boost in stamina since becoming a mall walker.

Richard Agricola has been a member of the program for eight years. He walks with his wife five or six days a week, and loves the mall environment.

“It’s a good place to walk, because if it’s too hot, too cold or too rainy, you can walk in here,” the 74-year-old Durham resident said.

On a typical day, Agricola walks at least a mile around the mall and supplements that with home exercise on a stationary bicycle and treadmill.

He said his weight stabilized after he began walking, and he’s lost seven pounds in the past four weeks.

Two medical professionals spoke at the celebration, offering advice for a long and healthy life.

Paula Miller, a clinical associate professor of medicine at UNC, said everyone should know “their numbers” – including blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol, and get counseling on disease prevention.

Miller, the first speaker 10 years ago at the program’s inception, said mall walkers are helping improve their lives.

“It’s wonderful, and it’s done so much good,” she said. “It puts people with similar problems together, and people come up with all kinds of ideas about how to make things better.”

Jason Kim, a vascular surgeon at Rex Vascular Surgical Specialists in Raleigh, said “walking is the best exercise out there. It’s important that people know they can come here and make friends, walk in a safe environment, and that we are interested in their overall care.”

One person who is sold on the program is Tom Maltais, assistant director of external affairs for UNC Health Care. He said the most exciting thing about the program, which includes monthly talks about health care, is hearing people say it saved their lives.

“A woman told me today that she had attended a talk about heart attack symptoms, and she felt those symptoms a few days later,” he said. “And she knew to call the ambulance, and said it saved her life.”

“It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Source: The Herald Sun
February 27, 2013
By Keith Upchurch