Slowly making strides
Last month I wrote about my beloved pedometer: a clip-on tool that tracks my daily steps. My natural inclination is to sit on the couch, preferably with salty chips and dip, so I need whatever motivation I can muster to . . . not do that.
But simply tracking my walking — usually about 3,000 steps a day — wasn’t enough. Since the American Heart Association encourages adults to take 10,000 steps daily, I made that my goal. A lofty one.
It’s easy for me to trot out my well-worn, well-loved excuses: I’m tired. I don’t have time. But what greater responsibility do we have than taking care of our health? It’s cliche for a reason: it’s true. I can’t work well, take care of my son, maintain a semblance of an uncluttered home or be a good spouse without strength and energy.
I’ve been thin and I’ve been heavy. Health, to me, isn’t limited to a number on the scale: it’s about having the physical ability to do anything we enjoy. It’s about being able to crawl around on all fours with my toddler and take the stairs at work. It’s about feeling sharp and capable.
When I looked at the (low) number my Fitbit was spitting out each day, I went through the usual excuses — but layered beneath that patina of nonsense was another truth: we make time for what matters to us.
Just as I gently scold those who say they have “no time” to volunteer, read or cook, I started looking at how I spend my hours. There had to be a few minutes in there to sneak in a quick walk, right? Right. Now when I feel myself getting drowsy, stiff or scattered at work, I take a walk. Armed with a water bottle and cheap sunglasses, I hit the pavement — literally.
It felt weird at first: a frizzy-haired woman strolling alone around her office parking lot. I imagined eyes on me in neighboring businesses, colleagues asking each other why some lady in a cardigan was walking in circles. Didn’t I have anything better to do? Well, yes and no. I’m not out there long — maybe 10, 15 minutes at a clip. But the time is less important than the effort, the action . . . and the commitment to myself.
Now that I know how difficult it is to actually hit 10,000 steps a day, I’ve backed off that all-or-nothing goal. I can’t go from sitting for hours to walking 5 miles, but I can make strides (pun intended).
I asked friends how they sneak in steps. Working on the ground floor of an office building, my cousin chooses to take the stairs up to a fourth-floor restroom rather than use the one next to her desk — all day long. Others seek out coworkers rather than text or email, or park far from a building entrance instead of jockeying for a front-row spot.
A favorite tip was to take typically stationary activities, like washing dishes or brushing your teeth, and walk in place — or go for a little stroll around the room. One friend uses every TV commercial break to walk around the house. In a 30-minute TV block, that could be eight minutes of movement she would have otherwise missed. Not too shabby.
Think that doesn’t matter? It all adds up. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults should get 150 minutes of “moderate-intensity aerobic activity” each week, but that doesn’t require a pilgrimage. It’s cumulative.
“The good news is that you can spread your activity out during the week, so you don’t have to do it all at once,” writes the CDC on their website. “You can even break it up into smaller chunks of time during the day. It’s about what works for you, as long as you’re doing physical activity at a moderate or vigorous level for at least 10 minutes at a time.”
Despite my fear of bug bites, sweating and strangers, my walks have also given me a sunny taste of freedom — and interaction. Between dodging rain drops over the last few weeks, I’ve given directions to lost drivers, smiled at a bride-to-be in a nearby salon . . . and felt the first traces of a new habit forming.
Spencer and I try to take the baby on walks after work. We catch up without our eyeballs glued to Facebook, and another happy effect? Oliver often falls asleep — or stops fussing, at least. A win for all of us. Progress is progress. It is, as they say, all cumulative.