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Walking their way toward better health

With poor physical fitness a chief concern for high rates of obesity and diabetes on the Navajo Nation, researchers are turning to the roots of traditional exercise regimes, hoping to bring back to the Reservation the Navajo traditions of balance, wellness and good health.

Under the instruction of John Blievernicht, Navajo elders and young people alike worked last week with pull-cables, learning how to properly condition themselves.

Walking Strong, is structured to train leaders of the Navajo community in basic exercises designed to address the problems associated with poor physical health, from bad posture to incorrect walking and balancing. 

“The Navajo lifestyle has changed along with the Native American lifestyle in general,” said Michelle Archuleta, director for health promotion program for Indian Medical Services. Herself a Pauite-Shoshone Indian, Archuleta hopes programs like Walking Strong will make a dent in lifestyles, obesity and diabetes.

Maintaining good health is nothing new for the Navajo people. If anything, good health had always been a part of the Navajo day, tying into the daily routines of prayer and harmony with nature. “Traditionally, the way to start a day is to run toward the East, where the sun rises,” said Archuleta. Walking toward the east gives the opportunity to welcome in goodness and beauty. A traditional person prays at that time.

“It’s an awakening,” she said. “Of course, our way of life has changed.” Now, facing diabetes rates as high as 40 percent on the Nation, Archuleta said tribal leaders are turning to science to re-establish proper physical exercise in their daily lives. “This is an opportunity to help us as Native American people acquire good health,” she said.

“That’s a strong message they are sending. Elders are saying we care about our people,” said Archuleta. “One of the things we want to teach is that balance,” said Archuleta. “Being in balance means being in harmony with nature, with family, with the self and the community.”   

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