Walking and Talking With Lee Elston
Although we’re recognized for our work getting kids on bikes, Norte is a firm believer in the power of walking. When we walk, we take critical steps towards both individual health and community health. When we walk, we see things differently within ourselves and in the community around us. Recently, I walked with someone who embodies the commitment to walking to stay active and connected.
Lee Elston walks 120 miles a month, mainly with her neighbors, friends, and, occasionally, new folks who come along like me. We walked a two-lapper at the Grand Traverse County Civic Center. At a healthy 3.6 mph pace, we walked and talked about winter, health, Blue Zones, community, and tango.
“I’ve been walking for nine months. I go every day. Now my friend wants me to walk with her once a week. It has really brought on a lot of walking, talking with my friends,” said Lee. “If you’re on a treadmill, you’re just by yourself, and that’s just more isolation.”
From the sounds of it, Lee is anything but isolated. From volunteering at Interlochen Arts Academy, teaching part-time at Northwestern Michigan College, and participating in the local tango scene, she’s regularly out there in the community. “If your community is where you gather, my community is on the tango dance floor,” she said.
Unfortunately, many of her community connections aren’t up and running during the pandemic, including dance. Last May, Lee realized she needed something to keep her active and connected to a community. Thinking it was odd that none of her neighbors knew each other, she asked a neighbor if she could join her walk one day. As they walked more, their circle of friends grew. “Then we started meeting people and walking, and we started connecting with people. We now know the neighborhood,” she said.
Lee believes in the power of walking side by side. It provides an opportunity to discuss each other’s lives and check-in with each other. It brings people together, even if they are quite different in many ways. Walking together with her neighbors, she’s discovering commonalities. For Lee, that’s adding intentionality in her life that aligns with the communal benefits she sees in the Blue Zones concept.
Blue Zones are regions where people tend to live much longer and be much healthier than people in other places in the world. In addition to moderate, regular exercise, community engagement is a common trait of Blue Zones. After 30 years as a nurse at Munson, when Lee retired, she found herself asking how she can do more to connect with her neighbors.
“I’m into communal living, where people can take care of each other as they age,” offered Lee. “It’s a way to combat loneliness.”
She’s also into winter walking, out in the cold and snow. Lee moved to Northern Michigan from Miami Beach for a job at Munson. After a rough first year settling in, learning what a snowmobile is and how to make a fire, Lee is now happy putting on her boots for a winter walk.
“I don’t like hot weather. This is my jam right here. There’s nothing wrong with this weather,” she said as we walked into a slight breeze at the Civic Center. “You just have to get out. Yeah, it is cold. But I don’t feel cold.”
Lee recently was inspired by an interview with neurosurgeon and author Sanjay Gupta. He’s making the rounds interviewing for his latest book, Keep Sharp: How To Build a Better Brain at Any Age.
“What is good for your heart is good for your brain. So what we are doing now, exercising, it’s also good for your brain,” she said, paraphrasing Gupta. “I think these are going to be my words for a little bit. If you’re doing something good for your heart, your brain is definitely going to benefit.”
“Us oldsters are concerned about our brains. Nobody wants to get Alzheimer’s or dementia.”
Lee’s has advice for people who think of walking as a chore: start with small goals and gradually increase your distance and pace. “I try to take the task out of it. I want walking to be enjoyable. I think when you walk with someone, it takes the task out of it,” said Lee.
That’s something Norte can get behind—walking together and keeping it fun, like Lee.
Let us know who you’re walking with this winter, on Winter Walk Wednesdays, or any other day. If you’re looking for someone to match your strides, consider inviting someone at Norte. Our staff is ready. Reach out. Let’s walk together—safely and responsibly, of course.