The evil N.Y.C. winter finally departed and it took my excuses with it, leaving me sitting at home, still lazy, flabby and tired. I was moved mentally, if not physically, however, by two recent news stories.
One study, reported in the New York Times, found that taking a walk dramatically boosted creativity. Walking is instantaneous and acute in its effect on the mind and even a short one will do the trick. The second article was about people who lived past 90-years-old. Researchers found that exercising as little as 15 minutes a day made a difference in their longevity.
I would like to be both creative and very old, and I am willing to cough up 15 minutes each day to make that happen. So, I decided to walk one mile per day, rain or shine, early or late, in sickness and in health, like it or not. To make it easy, I would not change my clothes or shoes for the walk; my only equipment would be my cell phone, where I downloaded an app called Map My Walk that keeps track of distance and time.
Moving our bodies (regrettably referred to as "exercise") is absolutely an LGBT issue. In the U.S., lesbians have higher rates of obesity than their heterosexual counterparts, making us more vulnerable to multiple diseases. Our young gay youth, on the other hand, are leaning too heavily on eating disorders in an attempt to control their size and weight. In the cancer realm, a disease that disproportionately affects LGBT people, regular exercise is associated with both a lower risk for cancer and improved outcomes in survivors. There are plenty of reasons to move our LGBT bodies.
Day 1: My schedule was completely booked except for a single 60-minute break between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m. and walking impinged on my lunch plan. I resentfully grabbed a light jacket and my cell phone, and pushed myself out the door.
In N.Y.C., we all know that there are 20 blocks to a mile; I walked precisely 10 out and 10 back. The sidewalks were packed, so I weaved my way through the pedestrian throng like a woman with a mission. I was home in 15 minutes.
Upshot? No benefit to this, except the minor pleasure of ticking off the chore.
Day 2: Again, not a free minute until 3:00. I instinctively headed south this time into the sun, planning to race through the obligation again, but about 6 minutes into this march, I stopped working so hard and slowed down. I felt the sun on my face and the thrill of being out in springtime, so much so that I didn't turn around after my phone told me I had walked half a mile.
Upshot? I got a lovely warm dose of vitamin D, spotted several great haircuts, and grabbed a delicious frozen yogurt on my way back.
Day 3: I took advantage of an inadvertent loophole in my rules and decided not to complete the mile in one uninterrupted circle. Instead, I stopped midway for 20 minutes to sit in what what passes, only in N.Y.C., for a park. It is a triangle of cement in a fork in the road, but has café tables and metal chairs. I pushed "pause" on Map My Walk and slouched way down in my chair so my head rested on the back of the seat and my face was in the sun. Against the background sound of traffic, I indulged in some good city eavesdropping. To my right, a woman was speaking German into her phone. I would have considered this of low entertainment value, except that the two gay men on my other side were discussing, in excruciating detail, their acid reflux and their circumcisions. (Yes, I live in Chelsea.)
To compensate for the semi-legality of the 20-minute stop, I walked past my intended turn around point. In all, I walked 1.7 miles in 22 minutes of moving.
Upshot? I felt a bit guilty about the stopping and the sun.
Day 4: It was raining, and I'm no postman. I hate precipitation and cancel all expectations that I leave the house whenever the weather is capable of ruining my hair or my shoes. I pushed myself out early in the day, before the drizzle became a deluge and, more importantly, before I washed my hair. I grabbed checks that needed depositing and gave myself permission to stop at the bank.
Upshot? Walking with my head bowed against the rain made this a solitary and contemplative 15 minutes. The weather matched my mood as I left the house, but I returned with a tad more serenity.
Day 5: I decided to use my daily walk as transportation to an early morning meeting slightly over a mile from home, as it didn't require me to leave one minute earlier than if I went by any other form of transportation. I had traveled nearly five blocks before I even realized I was walking; my thoughts were fully elsewhere as I moved. Walking had become unconscious, normal even.
Upshot? I had to admit I was starting to like this.
Day 6: I didn't do it. I will spare you my long list of excuses.
Upshot? My fantasy that I had made walking a habit already was crushed.
Day 7: To repent for yesterday's sin of omission, I walked 2.5 miles today. It was Mother's Day, a hard day in my life, and I had a lot to think about.
Upshot? Just as that study promised, walking changed my thinking and I came home in a better mood than I left with.
What did I learn from this week? Exercise is a promise that isn't easy to keep. It is sometimes glorious, sometimes hideous, but always valuable.