Grandma Walks

A baby’s first steps cause celebrations for all involved. The child is inordinately proud of herself. Look at me Mom and Dad! I can get around without your help! The parents are excited to witness this major milestone, followed by a mild depression as they picture the little one going off to college. Grandparents and other relatives congratulate all involved. Witnesses to the event clap, hoot, shout hurrah, and if they’re lucky, snap several hundred photos and a video before baby flops her butt onto the floor.

If only this excitement could last forever. School-age children would never say: “I don’t want to hike—it’s boring.” Teenagers wouldn’t protest at the thought of walking six blocks to the store instead of driving. Workers would jump at the chance to walk over to the next cubicle instead of sending an email. But for many, walking loses its panache. It’s easier to sit. It’s faster to drive.

Walking has numerous health benefits. Our studies at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center have shown that moderate-level physical activity is associated with reduced risks for several cancers, and with improved quality of life and survival in those who have cancer. We also conducted state of the art clinical trials, and found that the combination of weight control and increased activity provides optimal improvements in risk factors for several cancers. So, just as you can lower your blood pressure by getting your weight under control and exercising, you can also lower inflammation, hormones, and growth factors that can increase risk for cancer.

So now that you’re sold on the benefits of an active lifestyle, you might ask what to do and how to start. Most adults choose walking for their exercise. You don’t need any special training or expensive equipment to walk. You will need decent shoes. In our exercise studies, we gave women vouchers to ensure that they were fitted for shoes that were right for their feet, and that had stability and cushioning. You’ll need to dress right for the weather, wear sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses, bring water, and you’re set to go. In inclement weather, you might choose to walk in a mall or other large enclosed building.

Some people prefer to walk and talk—arranging to walk with a friend will make the time go quicker and the walk more enjoyable. If you’re concerned about personal safety, walking with one or more friends can make you feel more comfortable. Some people prefer a solitary stroll. I walk most mornings with friends, on weekends with my husband, and some late afternoons on my own. I call the latter my “Zen” walks.

The United States Surgeon General recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate level aerobic activity or greater for adults. That translates into 30 minute walks, 5 days a week. If you’re completely sedentary right now, start with a 15 minute walk on a flat surface, and work your way up. More is better. I walk at least an hour a day. Step counters and fancy fitness monitors might motivate you, but unless they turn off the TV, lace up your sneakers, and free up your time from other duties, they won’t get you out of the house. That’s up to you.

Walking with grandchildren is a wonderful way to stay active and introduce kids to nature (they’re fascinated with worms, flowers, bird, squirrels, dogs, and cats). Walking is soothing to a baby; you can help new parents get some shut-eye while you take the baby outside for a stroll. When toddlers or preschoolers are fussing or squabbling, there’s nothing quite as therapeutic for both grandparent and kids as getting out of the house for a walk. It’s a perfect cure for the whines, the fights, the boredom, and the frustrations.

While taking a walk won’t likely get you claps and hoots from your family, it can bring joy, satisfaction, and tranquility.

3 thoughts on “Grandma Walks

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