Every Tuesday night at 8 p.m. like clockwork, Karen Trow is out walking three to four miles with seven like-minded women. They walk briskly along the trail for about two hours, chatting about what their children are doing, trips they're taking, and how to handle the occasional difficult child.
It's all part of belonging to a walking moai in Albert Lea in which six to eight people meet and walk regularly to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The walking moai is part of the AARP/Blue Zones Vitality Project, which helps people make changes to improve their health and life expectancy.
Trow, 66, who is one of the project's 30 volunteers, says interest in the walking moais has soared lately because "the weather's good, and we're doing a lot of promotion." The town has expanded the walking and biking trails, and the lake's location in the middle of the town is a draw, she says. Her neighborhood has three groups.
An initial meeting in June helped would-be walkers organize based on common backgrounds and interests. The groups were given a list of destinations to help them get going. The walking continues through early October before the weather turns colder, Trow says.
The AARP also outfitted 3,000 dedicated walkers with pedometers, which count their steps. They get credit for walking each week with their group and receive additional credit for walking with any one of their fellow moai members during the week. Each Sunday, Trow's group turns in their pedometers.
Walkers tend to be mostly women, and many have grown children. Some couples found couples to walk with from other neighborhoods, Trow says. Groups are on the small side so people get to know one another.
There's even one consisting of mostly working mothers with children who meet at 9:30 p.m. once a week, Trow says. With all of their responsibilities, some women find time to fit in walking, and when it's a stretch, it's common for them to help one another out. "For one of the women, sometimes they have to knock on her door to get her up to walk," Trow says.
If someone does miss a walk, he or she can join another group instead. The 65 groups have already been set at this point, and each has a character all its own. Someone joining Trow's group for the night better be prepared to walk fast. "It can be a challenge," she warns.
For Trow, the walking moai is a welcome break from her day job as owner of Soap Wizards, a company that sells bath and body products. "I look forward to it," she says.
Walking with her neighbors has also helped Trow forge new strong relationships. "I'm getting to know a lot of my neighbors that I used to just wave to."
They've gotten together for lunch and shared hors d'oeuvres and wine from Sardinia, known for its antioxidant properties, Trow says.
Her neighborhood has become more "cohesive" as a result of the walking moais, she says. For instance, she expects a huge turnout at this Sunday's picnic "because people have gotten to know each other," she says.
The word "moai" is Okinawan for a group of people staying together and supporting one another throughout their lives. It could be said that some of these walking moais are beginning to achieve that.