It was a beautiful morning to take a short walk with a big purpose. The first-ever Growing Bolder Wisdom Walk, in partnership with Florida Blue Medicare and Track Shack, brought together a large intergenerational, intercultural, interracial group of all ages. We had strollers and wheelchairs, infants, toddlers, teens and men and women from age 20 to 91.
Thomas Friedman, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls walking, “the closest thing to a wonder drug that we have.” And he’s not alone. Doctors, researchers, and health experts from the American Heart Association, the Arthritis Foundation, Harvard Medical School, Mayo Clinic, and many others prescribe walking because it’s proven to help ease joint pain, improve immune systems, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, boost memory, maintain weight, reduce chances of getting many types of cancer, and more.
We didn’t create the Wisdom Walk just to improve our overall health and wellbeing, as important as that is. Our mission is bigger than that. We’re committed to encouraging intergenerational relationships as a way to break down barriers and confront ageism which is widespread, unchallenged and has far-reaching negative consequences for people of all ages. Younger and older people are denied opportunities simply because of their birthdate. Among older people, ageism is directly connected to poorer physical and mental health, loneliness, depression, decreased quality of life, and premature death.
One of the greatest gifts that we can give young people is a more realistic and non-ageist view of growing older. Studies reveal that by the time they’re 4 years old, children already have a negative view of aging and research proves that those with a positive view live, on average, seven and a half years longer than those with a negative view. Not only do they live longer, but they’re also happier, healthier, and dramatically reduce their healthcare costs.
As a culture, we battle racism and sexism but ignore ageism, even though it’s the one ism that does or will affect everyone. One of the very best ways to combat all three and overcome stereotypical beliefs and prejudices is to build personal relationships. That’s what Growing Bolder’s Wisdom Walk is all about.
We had two, three and four generation families participating together, and we placed individuals and strangers into intergenerational groups. Signs were positioned throughout the course with questions designed to prompt conversation. Questions like: What do people get wrong about someone your age? What’s been your biggest embarrassment and why? What do you want to do that you haven’t done yet?
Carol Tenhoopen was walking with her daughter and grandson.
“I talked a little bit when we came across one of the questions, ‘What bothers you about aging?’ I talked a little bit about my husband and his condition. He’s in a wheelchair now and couldn’t participate today. I talked to them about my fear of having to take care of him, but also me ending up in the same condition perhaps in the future, worrying about what will happen to me. Who’s going to take care of me? And that’s where Christy comes in.”
“I would love to help, Mom,” said Carol’s daughter, Christy Marchand. “I really enjoy spending every moment when I can with my mom and having my son learn from her the many things she teaches him. She’s an avid reader, she’s active, she’s done 5Ks, I love it, and he’s picking up from her.”
79-year-old Barbara Miller attended with her 80-year-old husband, Bob.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea because I mean, we have grandchildren, they learn from us, we learn from them, and it would be the same with this,” said Barbara. “You get a different perspective and they’re all so nice. You have a lot to learn and the younger ones show it to you and they’re usually surprised that we can actually move.”
48 year old Tylana Hill formed a spontaneous walking group with 19-year- old Jayd Derickson and 21-year-old Hannah Favorite.
“It was honestly a great experience,” Favorite said. “I learned a lot, definitely about growing older and communicating with other people around me and how important socializing is with people of all ages.”
“One thing Hannah said was about comparison,” Hill reflected. “Comparison, people wanting what others have or taking what others have or not wanting to share with others. It’s a problem.
“I’m really overwhelmed with emotions,” Hill continued. “I did this in honor of my aunt who turned 80 today and the future is bright. I plan to try to do this at my church or even at work.”
All of the walkers were invited to pose for renowned portrait photographer Mike Dunn who captured the energy, passion, and enthusiasm of all who participated. The photos were made available to everyone at no cost; a memento of a great day and an even greater cause.
“It’s great to see so many people of all ages, different backgrounds, different walks of life, just all coming together and sharing that common goal of just wanting to improve their health and stay active and that’s really important to us and Growing Bolder as well,” Florida Blue Medicare Partnership Marketing Manager Lauren Ward shared.
“At Florida Blue we really want to provide a wide range of health solutions to our members and it really is about helping them achieve overall total health: mental, physical, emotional. Whether it’s people coming into our centers to take advantage of the different fitness classes we offer or meet with the nurse, we just want them to know that we’re here for them and we’re a resource whenever they need it and however they need it.”
We didn’t just walk the walk; we talked the talk. And it’s just the start. Our hope is that these steps are the beginning of a movement that can change minds and lead to improved health and happiness for people of all ages.
This article is featured in the November 2022 issue of The Growing Bolder Digital Digest.