Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Road to Good Health, A Step at a Time

In the continued search for ways to improve my health and fitness, I’ve been thinking a lot about the advice Dr. Jorge Minera gave on fitting exercise into an ever-busier schedule. (See

Dr. Minera encourages his patients to snag opportunities for movement whenever possible: walking to the store instead of driving; bypassing the car wash in favor of scrubbing it yourself; using a push mower on the lawn, etc.
I decided to spend last weekend being more aware of this advice. On Saturday, my 12-year-old daughter and I strapped on matching pedometers and headed out to do errands. By the time we hit Wal-mart, I had logged a few hundred steps and she was looking at more than 1,000.

“Oh no,” I thought, “one of the pedometers must be broken.” I was hoping it was mine. I had heard you are supposed to aim for 10,000 steps and at this rate, I was going to run way short. We ran a little experiment: we both walked 100 steps, counting as we went. Each of the pedometers had counted out a hundred steps, too. Darn, both pedometers were working just fine.

For the next couple of hours, I watched my little girl as we continued our rounds. All became clear.

First of all, her legs are shorter. One hundred of her steps didn’t get her as far as 100 of my steps. But there was something else. My daughter never just walks anywhere. She skips, she bounces, she spins and twirls, and she runs. When she needs something upstairs, she tears up the flight and comes down with one sneaker. Then a minute later has to go up and get the other one, then a sweatshirt, then a pair of socks, then a book. By the time she’s assembled herself in the living room, she made six trips up and down the stairs. On the other hand, in an effort to save time, I go up stairs and collect everything I’ll need for the next four hours before I descend. I’ve trained myself to save steps – now I see maybe not such a good idea.

Now I know why my daughter is a skinny little thing and I’m … not so much.

On Sunday, we left the car parked in the driveway and did our errands on foot -- post office… library … pharmacy … grocery store … Dairy Queen (I know what you’re thinking, but I just had water. Little Miss 10,000 Steps had an ice cream sundae.) We explored the creek behind our house and played a little soccer. By the end of the day, my pedometer read a couple of thousand steps. Way behind my goal, but better than Saturday. If I was a less bitter person, I would tell you my daughter’s total – but I’m not.

After the revelation of the weekend I spent the week incorporating Dr. Minera’s advice in other ways, as well. I bought one of those exercise balls recently, blew it up and rolled it around to my desk at work. I retired my desk chair in favor of the ball and by the time I went home that first afternoon, I could already feel that new muscles were being employed. I was sore after only a few hours and was encouraged. The next day, I found myself, between paragraphs, rolling back and forth on the ball. It was fun, and I felt like my back and stomach muscles were definitely being used.
OK, Dr. Minera, I thought, this idea is working.

While at the Fauquier Health LIFE Center the next day, I tried out a balance disk. It’s flat on the bottom and makes a soft and squishy semicircle that comes up off the floor. You stand on the semicircle and try not to fall off. At least, that’s what I did.

I’d been reading about how important to fitness your balance is, and that this funny half-ball was a good tool for improving balance. I bought one to use at home. I tried standing on the disc one night while watching television and it was pretty challenging. The next day at the LIFE Center, I had to cut my workout short because my legs were so tired. Another good sign.

The best part of these changes is that they don’t cost me any time at all. They are gentle ways to fold exercise into my daily routines.

When I work myself up to 10,000 steps, I’m having a hot fudge sundae.

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