Walk Your Way to Good Health

Featured Article, Fitness
on March 18, 2011
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I am 63 years old, and I have the energy, strength and flexibility of someone 30 years younger. But the secret to my vim and vigor isn’t a pill or potion. It’s a pedometer.

For almost two years, I’ve tracked my steps with this simple gadget and have logged 7,611,000.  My goal? A cool 10 million. (Ed. note: Sunny reached 10 million steps on Aug. 29, 2011!)

I started my journey in June 2009 by embracing a challenge to “Walk the U.S.A.,” a Blue Cross Blue Shield-sponsored virtual walking competition at Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ), where I teach,. I was co-captain of the South Campus Team, and we were the first college team to walk the equivalent of coast-to-coast and back. It was great fun.

Once the challenge was over, I needed another goal. Right about that time, the film “Up in the Air” came out. In that movie, George Clooney’s character logs 10 million airline miles. Bingo! I was going to become the founding member of the 10 Million Steps Club. I figured I could complete 5 million steps in a year and be halfway there. In June 2010, I did just that. Now I’m more than three-quarters of the way to my goal.

I shoot for about 14,000-15,000 steps per day, longer on the weekends. Some of my steps are running steps, some are brisk-walking steps, and some are just knocking-around-doing-errands steps. I always opt for stairs over elevators, and for far-away parking places. I usually walk or jog in the morning, but if I haven’t met my daily target of steps, I take an extra walk in the evening to make up the difference. I keep it interesting by changing the venue and purpose. Sometimes I walk in a quiet meditative mode, sometimes I chat with friends about their grandchildren and sometimes I compete in local road races.

I have a friend who I walk with, and we play the lottery with money we find on the street. When we have enough pennies saved up, we walk to the nearest gas station to buy a ticket. You have to play games with yourself to make it fun! I also bought a pair of Ski Walking poles (http://www.skiwalking.com/) so I can get an upper body workout from time-to-time as well.

I haven’t always been this active. In high school, I was a P.E. flunkie! But my husband Ben is a runner, and when I was nearly 50, I went with him to Boston for the 100th anniversary of the marathon. I saw hundreds of thousands of people who looked so happy and so fit. I thought, I want to do that. I ran my first marathon that year, and have run nine total. I’m slow, but that’s OK — there’s more company at the back of the pack!

It’s never too late to adopt a healthy lifestyle, but it takes consistency. It’s a day-in, day-out kind of thing, and I like being a role model. I’m a member of the Red Hat Society (http://www.redhatsociety.com/), and my slogan is “A fit red hatter is a happy red hatter.” I promote “funship” walks, and we try to do them as a group once a month. It’s something older women can really benefit from.

I like to use my quest for 10 million steps to set an example for my FSCJ students, too. I teach remedial courses, and my students are academically underprepared. Often they don’t know how to study, or how to set a goal and stick with the plan. My quest to log 10 million steps has been a self-study on motivation, and I use it to encourage them to persevere. When they ask me about my goal, I tell them it’s hard but I have to stick with it — and it’s the same way with math. You break it up into little pieces, and every day is a success.

 

The health benefits of walking are undeniable. Want to get started on a walking program? Check out “Walking Tips for Beginners.”