Walking has always been the neglected child in the exercise family. It’s rarely mentioned amidst news of the latest fitness craze.

But for women especially, as Gerri Hirshey eloquently reveals in The New York Times, it just might be the tortoise in the race toward health — and more importantly, toward quality of life and sustainability of friendships. Describing the pairs and threesomes that take advantage of suburban roadsides, county trail systems and even parking lots, she writes:

We do it to maintain our inner and outer landscapes. Briskly, or in
relaxed moderato, we pace one another through the spiritual peaks and
vales of middle age: bittersweet graduations, college-entrance angst,
pouty teenage queens, empty nests, divorce, chemotherapy jitters and
the straight-up blues — and somehow, we leave gales of laughter in our
wake. We’re walking off pounds and minivan butt, paring off pregnancy
rolls and staving off thinning bones. Upright, up hills, we trudge to
defy age, gravity and bad cholesterol numbers. Together, we make the
miles fly with talk: children, work, good books, politics, real estate,
recipes. Men.

Mixing in the latest medical endorsements of walking (and she doesn’t even mention increasing cognitive function and reducing hip fractures in older women) with personal testimonies from herself and other women, Hirshey — who, like several of the women in the story, was once an active runner — demonstrates that walking leads to a long list of unique pleasures, many of which are missed by people who take things at a faster pace:

There was no risk of re-injury with walking. And I was hooked on the
roadside still lifes appreciated only at slowed pace and close range.
Walking alone, I savor the quiet away from electronic tethers. When I’m
striding with friends, conversations scuttled by the domestic eddies at
home spool luxuriously. A good walk is a peaceful, settling thing.

This doesn’t mean that women walkers don’t push themselves, though. She also tells the story of three women who got hooked on walking the More Magazine Half-Marathon.

Although she feels better about her own health, Catherine Viola, a member of the long-distance trio, sees the more significant gains: “We talk — oh, do we talk. We’re closer than ever. We’ve solved world problems and family matters out there.”

Christine

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