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HELPERS: Fitness group encourages neighbours to 'take a hike'

Founded by local dietician Abraham Anjarkouchian, Newmarket Park Walking and Health Group aims to foster friendship through hikes, exercise classes, and other community activities

Studies show that exercise can be extremely beneficial for both mental and physical health.

And with daylight in short supply, we need all the exercise we can get to beat the winter blues – which is why local organizations like Newmarket Park Walking and Health Group, which brings the community together to stay physically fit year-round, are so important.

Founded last February by local dietician Abraham Anjarkouchian, Newmarket Park Walking and Health Group not only aims to foster healthy habits for people in the area, but bring together neighbours to support small businesses, get to know one another, and – of course – make friends.

“I’ve been so happy that I’ve been able to create friends for people who are lonely, like seniors who are isolated at home,” said Anjarkouchian. “I constantly get texts thanking me for getting them out of their house or helping them find friends through the group. It warms my heart to hear.”

The group’s mission has proved popular. Since Newmarket Park Walking and Health Group’s first 16-strong hike at Fairy Lake almost a year ago, they’ve welcomed more than 1,000 members – though the number of hikers attending each meet-up typically ranges a more manageable 15 to 20. Locations and meeting times for each month of hikes are announced in advance on the group’s Facebook page. Pets, of course, are welcome.

To ensure people of all ages and experience can benefit from Newmarket Park Walking and Health Group, Anjarkouchian plans a varied schedule of hikes ranging in difficulty and length. To accommodate everyone’s busy schedules, he also offers weekday and weekend hikes at various times. Weekend hikes typically take two hours, and weekday hikes one.

In summer, the group hikes roughly six times a month, and in winter, four. Regular hikers get the added benefit of exploring York Region, with trails selected as far north as East Gwillimbury and as far south as Richmond Hill.

Though it’s difficult this far into their hiking schedule, Anjarkouchian tries to avoid repeating trails they’ve walked before.

“I try to be as creative as possible to find a new trail every time,” said Anjarkouchian. “We’ve done over 30 trails and have only repeated one once or twice.”

For Anjarkouchian, an immigrant who's experienced isolation in a new community, growing the Newmarket Park Walking and Health Group and fostering connection between neighbours has been a passion.

“I wanted to initiate a sense of belonging and help people suffering from depression or anxiety because of isolation,” said Anjarkouchian. “It’s very rewarding for me to see people making new friends and going out, and knowing I’ve left a good touch on the community.”

To further promote community-based exercise, Anjarkouchian plans to ramp up the frequency of the group’s low-cost yoga classes, an initiative started in May.

He also plans to continue hosting the occasional ‘activity’ get-together, like potlucks and post-hike meals at local restaurants.

“Everything is volunteer and about giving back,” said Anjarkouchian. “Everything made from the hikes or yoga classes is put back into the community.”