Diana Milburn and Madeleine Corbeil have been leading the Chula Vista Walks group, formerly known as Walking for Fitness, for nearly four years. They took on the roles of peer health coaches as part of a study conducted by researchers at UCSD and funded by the National Institutes of Health. What initially started as a 2-year commitment, evolved into roles that they continue to serve in today.
The program that they lead at the Norman Park Senior Center aims to help adults, 50 and over, to become more active through walking. However, these health coaches and their group members can tell you that one of the biggest successes of the program has been the social connections that they’ve formed. Social isolation is an issue that is prevalent among older adults and this program offers an opportunity for meaningful engagement with others, something not everyone has in their lives as seniors.
Two times a week, Diana and Madeleine lead group walks and open discussions that include health tips and time to share about group members’ challenges and successes with trying to achieve their fitness goals.
There are group members who take pride in the fact that they too have been there since the program started and are still going strong. Over time, group members have endured injuries or illnesses that come with aging, but have had the support of the group and their peer health coaches to get them back on track.
Walking in the community around the senior center and talking with other group members have really opened Diana’s and Madeleine’s eyes to the issues that affect seniors the most. Through weekly walks, they have observed how the built environment can hinder or support their ability to move around safely. As a result, they have sought ways to amplify their voices about seniors’ needs. Diana now serves on the Healthy Chula Vista Advisory Commission and the Aging and Independence Services Advisory Council, both of which advise local governments on issues and policies related to health and wellness. Madeline Corbeil, who never considered herself a leader before taking on her peer health coach role, was just appointed to the Chula Vista Commission on Aging, which advises local government on issues and policies related to seniors.
The Norman Park Senior Center is one of seven sites that started a walking group as part of UCSD’s research study and continues to run the Peer Empowerment Program 4 Physical Activity at its center.
For more information on how to start or join a senior walking group, please see the PEP4PA Program.