Scores of women participated in the first WOW group walk earlier this month. Photo courtesy of City of Evanston.

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In late March, the City launched a 12-week walking campaign to stress the importance of women’s exercise. The initiative – termed “Women Out Walking” – caught on at a surprising pace. Although the original goal was to recruit 50 to 75 walkers, nearly 500 women signed up to hit the pavement.

Beyond the health benefits associated with exercise, said Jonathan Webb of the City’s Health and Human Services Department, many walkers are enjoying a renewed sense of community.

“One of the cool things we’ve seen about this program is that it hasn’t been localized to one group of people,” Mr. Webb said. “We’ve got people from all wards, from all races, from all ethnic backgrounds … People are getting an opportunity to interact with people they don’t normally interact with.”

Janet Irons, who was diagnosed with lymphoma shortly after signing up for the program, said she finds it life-affirming to walk outdoors.

“Walking has been a life saver,” Ms. Irons said. “Your mind wanders and you think about things other than yourself for a while. I think about things that have nothing to do with the fact that I’m sick.”

Women were encouraged to register in teams of five, but City officials also organized individual registrants into groups based on their location and age.

After joining the initiative, Barb Wahle, a fifth-grade teacher at Orrington Elementary, was inspired to start a walking program with her class at school. She said the students’ excitement about counting their steps has opened an opportunity for practical math lessons, such as calculating average steps per week.

“They’ve really gotten into it,” said Ms. Wahle, whose students convinced her to let them bring their pedometers along on an upcoming trip to Camp Timberlee.

A grant from the Illinois Department of Public Health covered the initial costs of the walking campaign, including pedometers and walking journals to help walkers track their steps. But Mr. Webb said an outpouring of support from the business and non-profit community helped the City respond to the high demand for the program.

While it is too late to register for gifts or prizes, individuals can still get involved in group walks or attend monthly meetings that explore women’s health topics. For more information, contact Jonathan Webb at jwebb@cityofevanston.org.