One component of the current health care debate is the growing problem of obesity in America. Despite burgeoning gym membership, playground specialists organizing strenuous games and races for kids, brisk sales of home exercise equipment and marathon and triathlon athletes burning up our roads and waterways, the problem worsens. The sedentary continue to sit.
How about placing greater emphasis on the sport of walking? It can be enjoyed without leaving your immediate neighborhood; it can be done without expensive equipment, alone, with a partner or in a group and the level of intensity and the time allocated can be gradually increased.
Walking is a green sport, permitting you to leave your car at home. If you are a young parent, you may need a pram or stroller; I remember pushing with one hand, holding on to a toddler with the other. There are those with infirmities that preclude this activity, but if you’re able to open your door, step over the threshold and put one foot ahead of the other, you can become a walker.
I have written op-ed pieces in the past extolling the beauty and diversity of a walk around my former hometown of Alplaus, with its giant maple trees, historic homes and businesses, the waterfront, the visible remnants of the old trolley line that carried pleasure seekers from Schenectady across the Mohawk and on to Saratoga and the gentle hills between my house and the schoolhouse.
Before I retired, I also described my 30-minute lunch-hour walks starting from my office at Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital. From there, I could walk down to the North Side, or “Goose Hill,” or I could mosey around Oneida and Zoller schools, Sheridan Shopping Plaza, Sheridan and Netherlands villages. Faces of shoppers and residents I met became familiar and I still remember the day when a nodding acquaintance returning to Sheridan Village pushing her grocery cart stopped to tell me about a bargain on potatoes at the supermarket.
In inclement weather, I could take the enclosed walkway to Ellis Hospital, where, in 30 minutes, I could briskly walk the corridors on all six floors and the attached professional building, disturbing neither staff nor patients. A bit dull, but it was exercise.
Now retired, I make my home at Glen Eddy’s Independent Living Center in Niskayuna. Here, too, there are many different walks to suit a craving for diversity. There is the inner courtyard, where legend has it that seven times around equals a mile. The courtyard is situated on slightly rolling terrain; there are benches for taking a breather, a putting green and patio plantings to admire. Or, from my patio, I can quickly leave the campus to find myself in a suburban setting with well-kept houses, landscaping, brightly colored plantings and seasonal decorations. It’s an ever-changing scene. Here I’ve begun to know the dogs, the toddlers playing outdoors, couples out for a walk and teenagers on bikes or skateboards.
Or I can loop back onto the Glen Eddy adult living campus and pass the 17 cottages housing residents who we also meet at dinner, in the pool or at evening activities. On this route, there are bluebird houses near thickets, strategically placed off-road benches, a small pond surrounded by cattails where red-winged blackbirds land and sway on slender reeds and a duck family resides in season. Canada geese stop off on their annual migrations and the croak of a frog can be heard.
One day I as I walked down the hill in back of the Terrace, (the assisted living unit), a long, sleek stretch limousine with blackened windows slowly overtook me. It pulled in at the entrance to the Terrace and two black-suited men got out — one entered the building and another waited outside with camera equipment. What was going on here? I sat down on a low fence across the road, too curious to worry about propriety. The first man returned to the limo and the man with the camera crouched in readiness. A side passenger door was opened and out stepped a bride in all her wedding finery — to share her happiness with a grandparent or other family member who was unable to attend the wedding. And I had been expecting a dull visit from the governor!
Whether the scene outside your door is urban, suburban or rural, there are unexpected perks along the way. If at first you lack motivation, setting a destination may help. Walking around Alplaus, I sometimes needed to return a dish or pick up milk; from Sunnyview (counterproductive as this seems) I might promise myself an ice cream cone at Stewarts, and here at Glen Eddy, I might take the outside route to my destination — the front lobby to pick up mail — thus encountering a bride!
You can go to the Internet to find countless disturbing articles with facts and figures on the cost of obesity to individuals and the country, but going there is apt to be a delay tactic in itself.
Take one woman’s word for it; when walking becomes a habit, a sense of anticipation and privilege sets in. The journey, not the destination, is the point.
Ruth Peterson lives in Niskayuna. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.
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