In Michigan, USA, it’s early spring. The air is cool, but the sun is warming. The last little dirt-laced lumps of snow lie melting where we shoveled it out of our way into great heaps during the winter.
The leaves are matted from the weight of snowfall after snowfall, but peeking out from under those leaves are the sprouts and shoots and fiddle heads that will make our world golden and then green day by day over the next several weeks.
The robins have been back for quite awhile, and are fat on their early worms. It’s too soon for warblers, but all the great ducks and waders have led the bird migration parade on their return trips northward. A line of cranes croaked their way over my head yesterday. A raft of jolly little Buffleheads floated among the ice drifts on Lake Michigan last weekend.
That’s spring, babies, and around here, friends and neighbors come slowly out of hibernation, blinking at the sun, scratching at dry skin, trying to recall the last time we saw one another (which would have been in the fall, while dealing with some of those leaves). We slowly straighten our spines, pull outdoor gear out of overstuffed garages, and beginning to shed layers of wool and long underwear.
And we start to walk. A little sunshine on our heads. Vitamin D time.
Walking is one of the greatest exercises we have at our disposal, particularly for people who are just starting a fitness program and are carrying a lot of extra weight. If your joints can handle it (if not, try swimming or water aerobics), all you need is a good pair of shoes. Of course there’s plenty of other gear you could enjoy shopping for, but really, it’s all about the shoes. And then, of course, you need a walking location.
Not all of us can walk straight out of our front doors for a good brisk walk. I’m lucky to live in a town that is deeply supportive of walkers, runners, bikers, and skaters. We place bike paths and establish bike routes everywhere, through and around the town, in and out of wooded areas and parks, over old railroad beds, running from town to village to lake to town.
But not all of us are so lucky, especially in the U.S., where we’re slowly paving ourselves into corners that are unsafe for pedestrians. If your neighborhood isn’t the best walking environment, find one. It might be inside your local mall. It might be 20 miles away at the nearest park. Maybe it’s closer to where you work, or could it be the downtown shopping district in your city? Is it a subway ride away? Or two? If you have to look for good walking spots, I recommend being ready always by keeping your walking shoes and socks in your car or tote bag, so you can drop what you’re doing at any given moment for a nice brisk walk.
Walking is also a great exercise because, for the most part, we don’t need to learn to walk. Not really. Walking is something we more or less master from an early age. But when you walk for fitness, you begin to think about mechanics. You can’t help it. How do your feet hit the pavement? Where are my arms are supposed to go? What makes for good and efficient form? What will keep my heart pumping, how can I challenge myself? When these questions start, learning helps.
When you’re ready to learn, check out the excellent America’s Walking website, where Mark Fenton, formerly of Walking Magazine, and an expert, advocate, and rabble rouser for fitness walking teaches us where, when, and how to walk. The site offers several approaches to walking, and several training programs to follow, depending on your fitness level and goals, and your exercise personality. It even gives you strategies for making your own neighborhood more walkable. Mind you turn off your Norton Internet Security, or other Internet Security software to run the quizzes on this site, or they won’t work for you. And don’t miss the “resources and links” link for more exploration.
Always check Liz Neporent on iVillage’s Fit by Friday section first when you’re interested in a new workout. She writes wonderfully about practically everything. And walking is no exception. Do search about, because the iVillage article listings are incomplete. I recommend you search on “walking workshop” to find the entire series of workshop articles Liz has posted there.
If you live in the part of the world where spring is springing, I encourage you to get out there, on your feet, exploring your world, so you don’t miss the daily changes. The mud-luciousness is our reward for having slugged through a long, long, cold winter.
Step out, dears,