My Turn: I Stopped Talking and Started Walking

"Let's take a walk," my husband often suggested.  A simple enough request and yet, one I often turned down.  My excuses were many:  I'm too tired.  Too busy.  I just started dinner.  It's too wet outside.  Too hot.  Too windy.  Just about any excuse would do as long as it prevented me from participating in this innocuous form of physical activity.

But why?  I've always loved to walk.  As a teenager, it wasn't unusual for me to take long introspective jaunts along the towpath that paralleled the Delaware River near my parents' southeast Pennsylvanian home.  When my oldest daughter was a baby, I'd strap her into a backpack carrier and wander for hours on the Cape Cod Rail Trail.  On my own, I meandered through local neighborhoods, explored wilderness areas and long stretches of sandy shoreline. But I never took those walks for exercise.  I did them for the simple pleasure of being outside on foot.

Walking is a very basic physical activity, one that requires no real training and little more apparatus than a comfortable pair of shoes. Done routinely, it can prevent or improve medical conditions like diabetes, stroke, obesity, osteoporosis and heart disease.  It's a much-touted stress reducer and mood booster.  And yet, more often than not, when my husband asked me to accompany him on his daily constitutional—a quick-paced three-mile loop around the lake—my response was usually "no".

These days it's different.  I'm the initiator, frequently asking Ralph to join me on those very same walks.  What happened?

It began when I decided it was time to finally lose the extra 10 pounds I'd been carting around for the past 14 years.  Couple that with a need to strengthen my deteriorating bones with some sort of weight-bearing exercise, and I began to see walking in a different light.  Although there are beautiful walking paths right outside my front door, a treadmill provided me with something that nature couldn't—an acceptable reason to watch an hour of mindless TV.

Since I never belonged to a gym, using a treadmill was brand new to me.  I had no choice but to take it slow.  After several weeks of daily walking to daytime TV shows, I became comfortable striding along at just over three miles per hour. At that pace, I was exerting enough energy to sweat profusely.  Each day the digital counter ticked off calories in the mid-300 range, a measurement that I found encouraging to watch.  After a while, I got so used to my daily diet of TV and treadmill that, on the rare occasion when I did accompany Ralph on an outside walk, I felt like we were moving too slowly.

But as the weather improved, the idea of exercising outside became more attractive, and soon Ralph and I were taking our daily ramble together.  For the past several months, my treadmill has gotten more use as a clothes rack than anything else. All my walks have been outside and most of them have been with my husband.  Eight of the 10 pounds I was hoping to lose are gone—thanks, in no small part, to my walking regimen.

These days when I take a walk, I do it for exercise, but that doesn't mean I'm oblivious to nature around me.  My feet may be striding along speedily but my eyes take their time, meandering slowly and meditatively across the landscape, sky and ground.  I'm not so strict that I won't stop to pick up a pretty feather or pause to watch a turtle make its way across the path.

Although it took me the better part of half a century to realize, I now know it's possible to have fun while exercising.  When my husband says, "Let's take a walk," my response is a snappy, "Sure," as I scurry off to find and lace up my sneakers.   Despite years of trying to wiggle my way out of it, I've learned that sometimes the best excuse is no excuse at all.

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