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Petaluma Walking Day to highlight healthy choices

On the first Wednesday of each month, Renee Kinahan and her coworkers take a 30-minute stroll around the various offices near Shollenberger Park.

To the casual observer, it may seem like a simple outing or a team-building exercise for the employees of Workrite Ergonomics. For them, however, it’s merely one component of a workplace culture that began emphasizing health more than four years ago.

Local health officials are trying to encourage companies throughout Petaluma to do the same, or, at the very least, start taking small steps like walking for 30 minutes a day to help improve cardiovascular health.

The American Heart Association is hosting the third annual Petaluma Walking Day on Wednesday, April 3, with residents and North Bay employees invited to Shollenberger Park to learn how regular, moderate activity can help avoid heart disease, which remains the leading cause of death in the U.S.

“People think exercise has to be a massive intense work out, and it doesn’t. We just have to move,” said Petaluma Health Care District CEO Ramona Faith. “Research shows sitting is the new smoking. We want to encourage people to find what they enjoy and just get out and move.”

Workrite created a wellness program that promotes awareness, skill-building and participation by offering cash bonuses as high as $250, Kinahan said. Using a point system, employees get credit for things like routine checkups, attending onsite exercise classes, or sitting in on educational lunch visits from health industry leaders.

The company subsidizes gym memberships, and invites fitness instructors and massage therapists to their campus. Little things like Ping-Pong tournaments and even adult coloring to relieve stress have found their way into the program.

And like the Wednesday walks, each activity helps entrench the importance of physical and mental health to the Workrite staff.

“A lot of our folks on their breaks, they’ll get up and walk around the building,” said Kinahan, who works in human resources and coordinates wellness and events for Workrite. “Our wellness program has only grown, and it’s nice because our employees are engaged in it. They bring us ideas (on how to add to it).”

This year marks the third year Petaluma has hosted an event on International Walking Day. Attendees will be able to get CPR and AED training, as well as free blood pressure screenings from wellness vendors at the park. The event lasts from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Even though it’s being held near office parks in southeast Petaluma, residents citywide are encouraged to participate and spend 30 minutes taking a walk, Faith said.

The goal for Stacey Gibbons, executive director of the North Bay division of the AHA, is to create enough support in southern Sonoma County so Petaluma can host a “heart walk” fundraiser of its own, similar to the annual event in Santa Rosa each fall.

Some of the most important preventative measures are the simplest, Gibbons said, and the goal of Walking Day is to show how effective something as easy as walking can be.

“Your daily habits are really important, and the hardest thing to change is your daily life,” she said. “But everyone can take small steps toward a healthier lifestyle. Find something to do and get moving.”

(Contact News Editor Yousef Baig at yousef.baig@arguscourier.com or 776-8461, and on Twitter @YousefBaig.)

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