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Walkers stride to maintain health

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RONAN—For Ron Couture, maintaining an active lifestyle is a family affair. 

Couture and his four children recently participated in the Flathead diabetes program called “Walking the Rez.” Participants tracked the number of steps they took in a day with a pedometer, then phoned in their miles every Monday to one of four fitness centers on the Flathead Indian Reservation located in St. Ignatius, Arlee, Ronan and Elmo. 

Though the program has been running six years, this is the first year the Couture family participated. Together, they logged a total of 1,430 miles over a three-month period.

“What? I have to walk around the rez?” Couture said of his initial reaction to the name of the program. Though participants do not have to literally walk the 200 miles around the Flathead Indian Reservation, they do collectively register enough miles to circle the reservation several times over. 

“Until you actually keep track you don’t really know how far you walk in a day,” Couture said. “It’s a neat way to keeping track.”

Couture said his two sons Zarec, 8, and Ruben, 7, often had competitions to see who could walk the most steps in a week. They would wear their pedometers all day at school and then come home and continue wearing them while playing outside. 

“Kayla will take her four-year-old daughter out on the high school track,” Couture said. “It has motivated them (Kayla, 23, and Shayla, 22) to work out.”

“People have asked us to continue the program throughout the year,” Ronan fitness specialist Gigi Yazzie said. 

Yazzie said that even a half-hour of physical activity, like walking, helps maintain good health and reduce chances of developing diabetes.

“You need to keep your body active,” Jeneese Hilton said. Hilton, a 69-year-old Walking the Rez participant, also takes weekly hiking excursions into the Mission Mountains. “It keeps your mind and your emotions in check,” she said.

Flathead diabetes coordinator Brenda Bodnar said “Walking the Rez” works in two ways. First, it helps people who have diabetes combat complications through proper exercise. Second, the program helps prevent diabetes by encouraging participants to maintain good health through exercise.  

“Walking the Rez” takes place every year from Valentine’s Day to Mother’s Day. Walkers who successfully participated in the program received shirts and certificates. 

Although Couture no longer has to call in his step totals, he still walks the road by his home a mile into Ronan.

“I will see you in town,” Couture said he tells his wife if she is going into town when he leaves. “Pick me up at the stoplight.”

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