Coffee Break, August 2009

Step by step to health

We all know what there is to know already. We discovered how to achieve it as a toddler and, for most of us, it has stuck in our memories and muscles. It is as easy as 1-2-1-2, except, of course, when it must be applied with a few aches and pains, maybe a bad knee or hip, or worse, one leg with a mind of its own. It’s walking.

What is the big deal about it? Put one foot in front of the other. This is not really a miracle of divine proportions. It is really a down-to-earth activity anyone can do, and should do more often.

There are a variety of styles of this cure-all, such as ambling, strolling, shuffling, speeding, marching, hiking, and more. So put on a pair of shoes, leave the car keys behind, and start walking step-by-step to health.

Do not be one of those suckers who spend $4.9 billion on exercise equipment. Be one of those 17 percent who are actually exercising today. Go as far and as fast as you want, around the block once or twice, around the neighborhood, down a walking trail, or downtown for some speed-walk window shopping. Some people, on rainy days, speed walk around the mall before the stores open.

So how does this cure-all help us? Read any magazine in the doctor’s office while waiting to have your weight checked. Most of them will describe and analyze the benefits of walking. It controls weight; lowers blood pressure; prevents heart problems; increases muscle tone, lung capacity, and metabolism; and wards off diabetes, breast cancer, and colon cancer.

How to start walking? Confucius said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” That might be a bit too far at first. So try instead a reason to walk: a goal, a justification, or a driving inner force, such as a walk to the nearest espresso shop. Or, find a walking partner. Even a dog will do, but not the cat, because soon walking will become chasing.

When you walk is easy: It can be at a time when it is convenient. Do it instead of lunch, before breakfast, after dinner, during Oprah, or just after an argument for therapy, as well as exercise.

Walking at a moderate pace for 30 to 60 minutes burns stored fat and can build muscle to speed up metabolism. Walking an hour a day also is associated with cutting your risk of the multitude of health-threatening conditions listed above. Is it now time to work one-hour walks into a busy lifestyle?

There it is. The most advanced animal on the planet must go back thousands of years and restore the forgotten, but the easiest, cure-all miracle: walking.

Patrick M. Kennedy is the author of
How to Have Fun with Retirement, a sneak peek for which is available online at

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