Capital Region

Social walks a cure for springtime isolation

Nationally, people are on the move
Mary Matz of Niskayuna takes a stroll on Niskayuna Drive Friday.
Mary Matz of Niskayuna takes a stroll on Niskayuna Drive Friday.

An apple a day is supposed to keep the doctor away.

These days, a brisk walk a day may keep the analyst away.

People treating the COVID-19 health crisis seriously are spending most of their time indoors — following the advice of state officials. Reading, television, job duties, homework, de-cluttering basements-attics and gaming are among the chief indoor diversions.

Visits to the supermarket and pharmacy are necessary. Visits to support local restaurants and their takeout menus are laudable.

People who need breaks from their cabin style-style routines are getting out. They’re stretching and striding, taking spring walks in the brisk air and occasional warm sunshine. With the activity, they’re flattening personal curves.


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Doctors have always been sold on an exercise routine that includes walking. According to the Mayo Clinic, walking can reduce waistlines and improve health.

Clinicians say regular brisk walking also can prevent or manage various conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes; strengthen bones and muscles; improve moods; and improve balance and coordination.

The faster, farther and more frequently people walk, health professionals say, the greater the benefits.

Nationally, people are on the move. According to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a trail advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., major usage spikes have been observed on the nation’s trails and outdoor spaces. An analysis of 31 trail counters for a single mid-March week revealed a nationwide trail usage increase of nearly 200 percent from that same week in 2019.

The walking trend is growing in the Capital Region, as people leave isolation for ventures outdoors. Several explained their workout routines in Facebook posts and emails sent to The Daily Gazette.

Christina Norris of Duanesburg said she is taking a lot more walks this March.

“I’ve even started running more to stay somewhat sane,” she said. “Only a week in and all three of our dogs get excited and start pacing and blocking the door when our sneakers go on as they know it’s family walk time and they won’t let us leave without them.

“We all truly look forward to it,” Norris added. “In a sense, it’s become the main event of our day.”

The COVID-19 outbreak has changed Kaitlin Rowell’s routine. The Schenectady woman said she was working out at her gym three mornings a week before precautions were announced.

“Once the gyms closed down, I felt really derailed because for the first time ever I had actually stuck to going to the gym regularly for more than a month — I was past the three-month mark,” Rowell said.

“I have always been a walker with the occasional yoga session and that’s it,” she added. “Now that walking and online classes are the only option, I’ve been seizing every opportunity I have.

“This (past) weekend was a bit chilly but the sunshine made it impossible to stay inside so myself and two of my friends went to Lisha Kill nature area in Niskayuna just for a change of scenery.”

Rowell said the friends maintained social distance during their social session.

“The fresh air, camaraderie and trees definitely boosted my morale,” she said. “I’ve also been cruising my neighborhood on foot. It’s a nice way to really get to know the place you reside. I love looking at houses and spotting the occasional outdoor cat.”

Walkers, like motorists, must follow the rules. According to state vehicle and traffic law, pedestrians must walk on sidewalks where sidewalks are provided. Where sidewalks are not provided, the law says, any pedestrian walking along a road, street or highway should walk only on the left side of the roadway or its shoulder facing traffic, which may approach from the
opposite direction. Upon the approach of any vehicle, pedestrians are asked to move as far to the left as practicable.

Bicyclists, under state law, are required to travel in the same direction as the flow of traffic. That means always riding on the right side of the road, and ideally utilizing the right side of the lane as much as possible.

Jess LaFex of Niskayuna has joined Capital Region residents currently on tour. She said in the past, exercise has not been a priority in her family.

“Being cooped up during this isolation, though, led us to be eager to get out of the house — in any way, shape, or form,” LaFex said. “We started with a walk around our neighborhood.”

“Along the way, we played games,” LaFex added. “‘I’m going on a picnic, and I’m bringing ….’ And ‘I Spy.’ And my son collected rocks.  We enjoyed it so much that we did it again the next day.  And the next.  And now we haven’t missed a day since our isolation began.”

“This kind of thing, I’m sure, is probably pretty normal for some families, but for ours, it’s new,” LaFex also said. “My hope is that cabin fever was our catalyst to making family walks a habit.”

Lafex said while her family is not enjoying the isolation, family time together has been a benefit. “We have played games and baked, read and walked,” she said. “I feel like we’re learning about each other in new ways, and if there’s a silver lining to all of this, for our family, that’s it.”

Anna Marie Heim, who also lives in Niskayuna, regularly exercises indoors and outdoors.

“Both the indoor gym and tennis clubs closed last week, so tennis and the exercise classes were no longer options,” Heim said. “And the ski resorts closed, so downhill skiing and cross country skiing on nice groomed trails were out. The social distancing requirements definitely impact my ability to exercise and socialize. But if the weather is nice, it is pretty easy for me to get all the exercise I want since I don’t have small children at home, don’t work full time and I’m not physically compromised at all.”

More light during the early evening hours has provided more options for personal motion. “Last week, I went for a bike ride several times and I think we did one hike,” Heim said.

In Ballston Lake, Sharon Sgambati has been busy prepping virtual lessons for her first-graders and in-person lessons for her two young children. There has been plenty of indoor work.

“Our saving grace has been our walks,” she said.

“We are fortunate to live in a neighborhood that has participated in some activities,” Sgambati added. “The first one was the shamrock hunt — on St. Patrick’s Day, people put shamrocks on their doors or windows. My kids and I went around and counted how many we found — 24.

“This past week we have been doing the rainbow hunt,” Sgambati also said. “I have also set up a scavenger hunt — how many maple trees do we find, how many Honda cars, my son is obsessed with cars. It’s giving them a focus on our walks, which means I can get them a longer walk without them knowing.

Besides the exercise, Sgambati said the daily jaunts have provided another positive. “So many of our neighbors that we hardly see have been out walking, so it’s nice to give a wave and smile and know we are in this together,” she said.

Debra Gorgos, who lives in Niskayuna’s Hexam Gardens neighborhood, also is using walks to ensure fresh air for her children.

“Getting exercise has not been that difficult,” she said. “My kids love being outside, as do I, so they will go outdoors if it’s cold, wet, hot, windy or rainy. We also have a three-year-old Goldendoodle, so walking him around the block is one way we get out of the house.”

A bird sanctuary in the neighborhood has become a learning center, as the kids have been coached to look for birds and signs of spring.

“Last Sunday, we held a six-feet-apart Hexam Gardens parade,” Gorgos said. “Another neighbor, Clare, came up with the idea. We walked throughout the neighborhood, playing music, dancing and riding bikes. It was difficult as the kids could not get close to each other, but at least they got to see other people.

“This is such a strange time and it is important for me, as their mother, to make my kids feel safe and secure and to also have some normalcy,” Gorgos also said. “Thankfully, the outdoors is always ‘there,’ the sun is always out there in the sky (even though it is not always visible) and the moon is always up there, as well.”

Some other comments sent to The Gazette:

* Gina Paniccia Lysyczyn, Clifton Park: “We went to four different parks today looking for a place to walk — each of them was packed! Parking lots were overflowing and lots of people out walking! It was awesome to see so many people outdoors, whether it’s just walking in the neighborhood or families getting fresh air and exercise in our local parks.

* Joel Nelson, Schenectady: “I’m actually not taking more walks than usual. I am catching up on my sleep.”

* Dagmar E Rossi, Colonie: “Enjoying the sun and getting some yard work done to keep busy.”

* Diane Pope, Ballston Lake: “Yes, I’m 70. I need the exercise and fresh air! And people are very respectful of your space.”

* Cathi Angelo Butryn, Schenectady: “I love my walks in the neighborhood, especially during this time. It allows us to get needed exercise with the benefit of seeing others out and about, which helps curb the loneliness. We can chat from safe distances or just wave. It’s a nice balance of being in the community while flattening the curve.”

* Bill Gates, Coxsackie: “I have increased my outdoor walking from one to two miles per day to about six to eight miles per day since I have been working from home over the past week and a half. I often break it down into two walks, once in the late morning and the other in the late afternoon. One walk is for myself, no one else with me, and the other one I am usually joined by my wife and-or daughter and our dog.”

* Allison Maloney Turcio, Colonie: “I have a fitness challenge going with co-workers and friends. We all put in $25 and have to prove we did 10,000 steps and/or a 30-minute workout every day. If you complete challenge, you get the money back. If not, it gets divided up among those that do.”

Contact staff writer Jeff Wilkin at 518-641-8400 or at [email protected]



































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