BALDWIN HILLS — When you see a member of the L.A. Soul Steppers stepping through the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza get out of the way.
The Soul Steppers are a walking club of about 70-plus members. The free club for senior citizens meets once a month for a two-mile walk around the mall.
The group has been in existence for three years now. Members start their meeting by greeting each other, their coach, drinking water, tying their laces tight and stretching in order to prevent injury and ensure an effective workout.
Once all members are ready, founder and owner of Ultimate Transformations Training Coach Erich Nall, better known as “Coach E.” instructs everyone to come together in formation and leads the walk.
Chests held high and 10 toes down, they begin to walk their route. They begin at the upper level of the shopping plaza and make their way down. Some walk for two loops, others three loops. Everyone is encouraged to go at their own pace but to keep going.
Nall is friendly, informative and cares for his team.
“Four years ago, I partnered with AARP to develop a program that gets the community out and focuses on exercise and wellness. I developed and designed a program where we talk flexibility, stretching and proper mechanics for walking. Now we’re doing the second and fourth Tuesday of every month and we average about a 60-70 person turnout every month.
Nall says the group gathers at 6 a.m. The members stretch their muscles and warm up before starting the walk and there is no walking standard.
“Some people come out and walk and are novices and haven’t walked in their entire lives,” he said. “Then we have our experienced walkers. So what we normally do is a six-loop walk, which is approximately two miles. Two and a half loops is approximately one mile.
“What we try to do is to get everyone to do at least two or three loops in order to get the one-mile distance in, but mostly everyone walks the six loops.
“The community loves this,” Nall added. “We moved from one exercise day a month to two and now they are requesting to do more. So hopefully over the time we can expand it to maybe I meet with them once a week to have four workouts a month.
“I am incorporating exercise, strength training, isometrics and weight lifting and showing them how to do it, during this time frame and then they’re doing it on their own while they’re away from me.”
Long-term member Madeline Wilson said, “Getting up early in the morning and getting some exercise is a great way to start the day.”
She keeps coming back because of the exercises and the inspiration that Nall gives her.
“He talks about healthy lifestyles, not just exercising but eating, getting rest and being conscious.”
Maxine Young said: “I love all the tips that Coach E. gives us. I’ve always been a walker but I learn things about diet, ways to warm up and cool down. The whole package is interesting.
“It’s a challenge to me to come out and I can be very competitive anyway,” she added. “So I push myself to do a little bit more than when I just walk around.”
One of the few male participants is Carl Simmons.
“I play basketball but I don’t play as much as I used to,” he said. “So when I come out here and walk it gets my day going, gets my blood going and coach’s information on nutrition is very informative and helpful to me.
“I like coming out and the comradery, the friendships you develop and most of all the exercises you get. I’m trying to lose some weight and it’s working.”
Loretta Walker said, “This club reminds me of what I should be doing and it keeps me on track because I know I have to be there in two weeks.’ So in between time I’m thinking I need to continue to exercise, I need to continue to do what he’s told me to do. So it really encourages me.
“And I also enjoy the people that are here. We find we have so much in common,” she added.
On a recent Tuesday, Rachel Stone and Joyce Howard of AARP hosted a healthy breakfast and workshop on the five pillars of health.
“The Five Pillars of Brain Health was developed by the Global Council on Brain Health which is run by AARP as the national organization,” Stone said. “It brings together scientists and brain researchers who put together this curriculum to give people easy ways to integrate brain healthy behaviors into their everyday life.
“This was really a natural fit with L.A. Soul Steppers,” she added. “I think so many people think of exercise as purely physical but as we saw today, it’s social and great for the brain. Any activity where you’re engaging with your community, getting your heart pumping, circulation going is brain healthy behavior.”
Howard has been volunteer for a year with AARP.
She said, “It’s a family. We get together twice a month. We exercise and we encourage one another to keep moving. As a family, we walk together, we talk together and we socialize. It’s more of a social exercise type of a group and we’re only here for one hour, so it’s perfect. I love the program.”
Members did breathing exercises and asked and answered questions on how many steps they should be walking a day and how many hours of rest they should be getting at night. Members also discuss different health apps they can download to stay on track of their fitness journey.
The club wears a different color t-shirt every year. Past years have included black and aqua. This year’s color is green.
Antoine Cook, California associate state director for AARP, said “Soul Steppers is a very important group for AARP because it really does encourage people to be more active as we get older. We become less active so we encourage people to at least walk.
“This group is important to me because it’s become a strong part of what I do. I get to see people get active and change their lifestyles to become more healthy and also to develop a community around walking and being active.
“It’s really cool for me to check in with people every two weeks, … talk with Coach E. and his wife Yvette and I work with colleagues in Pasadena to do our programming. It’s really a great way to keep involved in the community and to get people involved in things that they should take advantage of everyday, like walking. I’m really excited about the group and where we’re going in the future.”
By Kristina Dixon