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The American Heart Association says walking is the simplest positive change a person can make to improve heart health. A regular walking routine can also lower the risk of obesity, enhance mental well-being and reduce the risk of diseases such as osteoporosis, breast cancer and type 2 diabetes.

There are so many benefits gained from the simple act of placing one foot in front of the other, that the City’s Health and Human Services Department will be launching its 8th Annual Women Out Walking (W.O.W.) campaign on March 21.

The widely popular 12-week walking program is designed to encourage Evanston women to lead healthier lifestyles by becoming more physically active. Using walking as the foundation, individuals and teams are asked to track their steps and seek to improve their activity level on a weekly basis.

Each participant is given a free “tracker” that will record her daily steps. Walks are scheduled at different locations and times throughout the City and are not mandatory, but offer a good opportunity to get in more steps, meet new people and explore Evanston’s neighborhoods. Every two weeks, prizes will be awarded to the individual with the most steps.

Kristin Preihs, Program Manager and Public Health Educator of the City’s Health and Department said this year’s W.O.W. theme, Mind, Body and Soul, encapsulates a growing awareness around how health is achieved.

 “We want to encourage women to redefine health for themselves and not necessarily let the mainstream definition of health guide their choices,” said Ms. Preihs.

 To encourage women to explore different avenues to healthy living, classes and workshops are offered to participants for free or at discounted prices throughout the 12 weeks. Classes range from yoga to belly dancing to organic gardening.

Malik Turley, owner of Hip Circle Studio, a dance and fitness studio for women and families, has been involved with W.O.W. for the past four years. After being asked to offer a demo class at a W.O.W. kick-off event four years ago, Ms. Turley says she saw the program as a great way for women to jumpstart a healthier lifestyle.

“I know women who had not been exercising at all before participating in W.O.W. who are now very active,” she said. “It’s wonderful to see that type of transformation.”

The cost to participate in the 12-week program is $5. Register online at wwwicityofevanston.org/health/wow/register or sign-up at the W.O.W. Kick-Off Event & Orientation on March 21 at ETHS from 10:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.

“We will have speakers, vendors and trial classes offered throughout the day,” said Ms. Preihs.

 The program will culminate with a final group walk together at the Ricky Byrdsong Memorial Race Against Hate on June 13.