If you’re an aerobic-exercise junkie, as I am, you may struggle to understand the whole “walk for fitness” thing – you know, women gathering to count steps and calories while strolling around town.
I just can’t erase the image of white-haired, white-shoed elderly folks meeting in malls for power-walks in the relative security of artificial light and climate control.
However, I recently revised my opinion, and have paid more attention to the women’s magazine articles (“I Walked Off 100 Pounds!”) and fact that the annual Avon Walk for Breast Cancer (26 – 39 miles in two days) involves some 18,000 people raising $45 million a year.
Where I live, a group of interesting, intelligent, very fit women recently invited me to join for half-marathon walk training. While in the past my response would have been a quick, “No, thanks, if I enter the race, I’ll be running it,” this time I signed on.
For the first time in my life, I’m spending the better part of a year without my regular runs, as a broken kneecap has sidelined me for as long as nine months. Even four births (including two C-sections) and surgery for a broken ankle didn’t put me out of commission this long. Those accustomed to the feeling of calm and well-being, not to mention the endorphin rush, that a good run can provide probably understand how much I miss pounding the pavement.
So, I’m working on walking. My 85-pound dog has adjusted to the slower pace, and, gradually, so have I. Now, I make “walking dates” with fellow dog owners, and try to join the half-marathon training group on Sundays. (Okay, in all honesty, I have missed most of the walks due to my family’s schedule and Seattle’s rain…)
Along the way, I have learned that walking with good friends not only provides real exercise, but a host of other benefits, as well:
Fitness: I’m still a bit mystified by it, but now I can acknowledge that an hour of brisk walking really does equate to aerobic exercise, and the activity can help people shed pounds and cellulite.
Companionship: Where we live, the weather can serve as a deterrent to outdoor exercise. (Did you ever hear that it rains in Seattle?) And yet, when someone is waiting on a street corner or in a park for you, you find a way to get your rear out of bed, lace up the tennies and head out the door. (By the way, that’s my co-author and me with our dogs in the photo.)
Guilt-Free Free Time: Let’s face it – many of us feel to guilty or self-indulgent to take time away from the family, the housework or office work to work out. And yet, if our purpose is to exercise the dog or counsel a friend, we feel free to take a long walk.
Community: It seems walking helps connect people to each other as well as to the broader community. Even if I’m alone with my dog in the park, I never feel lonely. Whether I “run into” other solo dog walkers or groups of power walkers, we smile at each other, and usually stop for a quick hello or brief conversation. While I love runners and running, I can’t say that those timing their sprints are willing to take breaks.
Mental Health: Those who walk together not only drop pounds, they shed stress and worry, too. As I log the miles with good friends, I feel myself loosening up – both physically and mentally – and as we fill the time with conversation, we get closer and closer to the truth. We ask each other questions and reveal honest feelings that usually aren’t conveyed in quick supermarket-aisle conversations. For many of us, just an hour with good friends in the fresh air can work wonders on the psyche.
Many years ago, my seatmate on a flight was en route to meet old friends for a three day breast cancer walk (it’s now the two-day Avon Walk). I was intrigued by how someone would spend the money and vacation time to WALK dozens of miles in a distant city.
This woman literally cried as she told me about the wonderful, supportive friends she was meeting, the breast cancer victims and survivors she was honoring, the funds her generous family, friends and coworkers had donated and the feeling of community she shared with other walkers.
It took a family dog and a broken knee cap, but finally, I understand what she meant.
–Linda Williams Rorem, 12 March 2012