Slowly mak­ing strides

Maryland Independent - - Classified - Twit­ter: @right­meg

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.

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