I wish everyone a year of happy walks on this first day of 2014.

“What do you mean “happy walks?”

Well, sometimes when I walk I feel so… happy. I know you’re thinking “um… that’s just the brain chemicals that are released during exercise.” I know, but it’s more than that. There is the feeling of pure joy for me when I am able to move, to breathe, to feel my body take me where my brain tells it to go. I am ecstatic to be on this beautiful planet, with changing seasons, and a sky, and birds and squirrels and trees and lakes. I delight in walking with others, to be given the opportunity to talk and learn and grow. My mind gets to a place where nothing matters but feeling this good feeling. Those are some powerful chemicals. Guess what? Now I’ve got a habit! I’ve been walking for over six weeks and it’s become something I really look forward to.

Anyone who wants to walk, but doesn’t – I encourage you to begin to just think about walking.

Think about walking so much and so often that finally one day you get up and do it.

Walk one block, one mile, or five minutes – just take a walk outdoors one time and see how good it feels. Look up at the sky, breathe in the fresh air, clear your mind and feel your body moving. Know that you are fighting cancer, diabetes, alzheimer’s, and heart disease. You are letting go of stress, you are improving your balance, you are producing new synapses in your brain. Let yourself feel good.

Then do it again, yes, walk another time – twice in one week.

This time go a little further, breathe a little deeper, let go a little more.

Feel it feel good until you are thinking about… when you will walk tomorrow.



Yesterday I woke up to a  dramatic and breathtaking sunrise – a cloud quilt of bumpy purple pillows stitched in molten orange atop a bed of bursting golden fireball.

Can you tell I have been craving the sun?

The light, the warmth, and the cheerfulness the yellow ball brings, only three more days until the shortest day of the year, and then we begin getting more light.

One of the greatest perks I have these days is being able to get outdoors to walk when the sun is beaming. It makes me so happy. This particular sunrise was like a commercial for the day about to begin. Immediately I started looking forward to a walk.

I love sunlight and I love the outdoors – can there be a better planet to walk around on?

I am quick to notice how my daily afternoon walks are releasing those “feel good chemicals” into my brain. With the winter days shorter and darker, I have a tendency to sometimes feel tired and sluggish (winter blues?) in the afternoon. After a walk in the bright sunshine and crisp cold air, I am motivated again to charge into whatever after-lunch chores I tend to put off.

It has been about a month since I started walking regularly, and I’m finding that walking makes me happy. I no longer think of it as a chore I have to fit into my day;  instead, I look forward to it. Research says this is supposed to happen. When a good habit gives us positive feelings we want to repeat it. Dopamine and seratonin are chemicals in the brain -neurotransmitters which affect mood, energy and overall well-being.

I now have around 70 miles toward my holiday 100.

Look-out “winter blues” – “brain bliss” is taking over!



…if you must, but don’t you quit.

Every once in awhile I wake up tired and my motivation for exercise is low. I feel stiffness and muscle/joint soreness, as if my body is nagging at me to take a break. If I ignore my body’s complaints, the next level of protest might be insomnia or headaches and I get cranky.  Any of these symptoms, or an increase in injuries, can be signs of overtraining.

There is good news out there for those of us who persevere diligently at our exercise routines, forgetting that taking a break can also be healthy.

Gary Hunter, a University of Alabama at Birmingham professor who published results from a February 2013 study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise agrees. A core finding in his study about exercise and energy expenditure in older women and the number of days they exercised, is that less may be more.  Dr. Hunter found the women exercising four times a week had the greatest overall increase in energy expenditure,  but those working out only twice a week weren’t far behind.  The women who had been assigned to exercise six times per week, (by the end of the study) were expending the equivalent of almost 200 less calories each day then when they started, even though they were exercising constantly. 

Moral of the story? (or study) …Take a break.



Sometimes walking outdoors cannot happen.

Today in Chicago we woke up to -3 degrees with a windchill of -12. As the day went on, the predicted high was some single digit number with a windchill. Since I was not about to brave the extreme cold and a possible case of frostbite, I needed an alternative – ahhh, this might be a good day to dig out my pedometer.

I find the pedometer to be an easy, low cost device to count the number of steps I take in one day. My pedometer is a sportline model and I have had it for over 10 years. It measures distance, calorie counts, and steps per minute.

When I was working, I considered myself a very active Physical Education teacher. I taught 5 classes and rarely sat down, each class met at a different teaching station -sometimes upstairs, sometimes outdoors, sometimes in another wing of the building. Then on my off periods, I used to walk around a lot, going to the mailroom, the copy room, the teacher’s lounge etc. I thought I easily accumulated 10,000 steps in my day, until one day I decided to start a project with my students to find out how many steps we were actually getting outside of gym class. This was the first time I used a pedometer to track my steps. I was a bit surprised to find I was in the 6000-8000 range.

The recommended dose of steps per day to achieve  health benefits is 10,000 or about 5 miles. That means 2000 steps equal a mile, or about 20 minutes of walking. For those interested in weight loss, the number of steps jumps to 12,000 – 15,000 steps per day.

What I like about using a pedometer is the instant feedback as well as the motivation and accountability it provides. I clip it on my waistband on my side just above my hip, knowing I can check it throughout the day by simply flipping it open.

When it seems like my number of steps is low I become aware of moving around more. I may throw in some extra walking –  parking further away from my destination, or better yet, leave the car at home on short trips. I might take some extra dog walks or up the pace when walking them. I also could use the stairs instead of an elevator or escalator when out shopping. At work, I used to walk to someone’s office instead of calling or texting. At home, I can always look for more chores to do – shovel snow, rake leaves, mow the lawn, clean the house, go up and down the stairs to do laundry.

During my project at school, I used it the first week to get benchmark data on my steps. I made a chart and recorded my # of steps per day for one week. For the second week, I reviewed the data then set a goal to try to add more daily steps. As time went on I would keep setting goals for additional weeks until I reached 10,000 steps. By this time I had a good feel for the amount of movement I needed in my days and I tried to maintain it. I was pleasantly surprised to find some days I was getting twelve and fifteen thousand steps without even trying.

Yes, on this extremely cold day, a pedometer is just the thing I need.



It’s time for a challenge and I have found one.

One of the friends I walk with sent me information about some upcoming 5K’s. Included in the mail was a notice about a 100 mile challenge – #runchi Holiday Hundred. The goal is to run or walk 100 miles between Thanksgiving and New Years Day.

This idea motivates me tremendously, particularly because it is the holiday season and I find myself unable to resist sampling the tempting bakery and comfort food so readily available. It doesn’t help that we are in the time of year with the shortest days and the most darkness which usually means a little more “couch time” in my life than usual. I will admit, sometimes I have taken the month of December off – indulging in calories without counting, and not worrying much about exercise. Why do I do this? Because January is just around the corner. And I, like everyone else, will make those typical new year’s resolutions – to lose a few pounds, exercise more and eat healthier. Guess what? This December will be different.

As I happily went to sign up for the holiday hundred, I was directed to a website called dailymile. Once I logged in and signed up I absolutely loved exploring the site. There are lots of different “challenges” to join. Hard ones, long ones, easy ones and everything in between. The website says it is “a social experience for active people, who would like to encourage and inspire others, while achieving goals. Members share workouts and stories”. What a great idea! There is even a section to compete or train with friends.

As I reflect back on one of my previous posts – thinking, I realize the dailymile website could be helpful to people to get out and walk daily for their health.  I placed a widget at the side/bottom of this blog to share my dailymiles. I know it’s already motivated me in my last three workouts. Yesterday, I drove up to Evanston to walk by the Lake. It was almost 50 degrees outside. I can bet there will not be too many more of these days when there is no bone-chilling wind and Lake Michigan is a steel blue calm.

I had a great walk in some tepid sunshine. Yes, I’m ready for my challenge!



Back to work.

I set my mind and my watch to “engage in physical activity directed toward the production or accomplishment of something”.  I would work today on getting my heart rate up. (And work it was.)

I decided to walk 3 minutes with my heart rate at or above 135, then walk 3 minutes without paying attention to my heart rate. This would be counted as one interval and I would try to complete three.

I found it very hard to get my heart rate up even walking at a furious pace. A furious pace meant walking so fast and hard, I felt I looked comical or ridiculous. I could not sustain the silly walk and I could not get my heart rate up so…I jogged. I jogged about one half of a city block and finally my heart rate went to 137, dropping down to a walk, I noticed I had to really pump my arms and take super fast, baby steps to get my heart rate to stay up in the zone so I could get through the first interval.

For the second interval, I needed to jog again; but by the third interval, I finally had some flow in my movement as well as an idea of how fast I needed to pump my arms and move my legs in order to keep my heart rate up. Also, by the third set I was sweating (bonus), and my quads and calf muscles were screaming. Upon completion of the whole workout, I think I felt an endorphin or two, which is something I can’t say that I regularly feel after my 4 mile walks – I feel good, but it’s not quite the same as  the “joggers high” feeling I used to get after a jog workout. This made me happy – I felt like I’d accomplished something, and… I had sweat production, I had worked.

When I got home and checked the watch, these were my results:  I reset the limits to 160-135. My average heart rate was 135 bpm, which was at 70% (YAY). I had no time above the zone, 14:10 minutes in the zone, and 10:50 minutes below the zone. My workout should have lasted for 18 minutes, but since I had trouble getting into a pace to elevate my heart, my results are not all neat and tidy. I know I wanted at least 9 minutes in the zone and I got that, so mission accomplished.

I now need to decide what to do with this information; what are my exact goals for walking and how will I structure my workout plan? With a  need to keep my heart in shape and the  motivation to try and stave off cancer (since I feel am genetically predisposed), I will probably structure a mix of long endurance walks and short intense walks for my health and fitness as well as “unscripted, once in awhile, for no purpose other than soul enhancing” walks for my mental and social health.

Thank you Gretchen Reynolds for your book The First 20 Minutes I have to say it challenged me to think about how I was walking and also made me consider what I wanted from walking. Who knew walking could be work!

  1. "If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you."—  Fred Devito  Pinterest!


“Torture the data, and it will confess to anything”    – Ronald Coase  (Economics, Nobel prize laureate)

After a four mile walk which took me about an hour, I went home to check the data on my watch. The first thing I noticed was I had neglected to reset the limits on the watch. The limits on the watch were previously set at 160 – 80 beats per minute. 160 being the high end of the THR zone and 60 being the low end. The watch would be silent if my heart rate was in between these numbers – which it was, for my whole walk. The watch beeps (thank goodness) if you are working too hard -heart rate is over 160 bpm, or (annoyingly) not working hard enough – under 80 bpm. The first thing I will do for my next walk – reset the limits to 160-135 bpm. This will allow the watch to “remind” me when my heart rate is not high enough.

Scrolling through the recall mode, my average heart rate during the workout was 123 bpm, with no time over or under the zone.  According to the THR chart, I was working at only 55% of my maximum heart rate.

Throughout my walk, I checked my beats – I have to admit I was walking at a pretty good clip while maintaining a conversation with a friend. It was very hard to consciously stay in the 120 bpm range , sometimes I pushed it up around 127 bpm, but this was only after about 30 or 40 minutes of walking briskly. Physical Educators are always concerned with something called perceived exertion. When I asked my students to tell me how hard they were working I seriously wanted to know how they felt during their workout. Using the Borg scale, a person can gauge how hard they are exercising. Here is the scale courtesy of The Nutrition Source, Harvard School of Public Health and the link to their site.  


How you might describe your exertion Borg rating of your exertion Examples
(for most adults <65 years old)
None  6 Reading a book, watching television
Very, very light  7 to 8 Tying shoes
Very light  9 to 10 Chores like folding clothes that seem to take little effort
Fairly light 11 to 12 Walking through the grocery store or other activities that require some effort but not enough to speed up your breathing
Somewhat hard 13 to 14 Brisk walking or other activities that require moderate effort and speed your heart rate and breathing but don’t make you out of breath
Hard 15 to 16 Bicycling, swimming, or other activities that take vigorous effort and get the heart pounding and make breathing very fast
Very hard 17 to 18 The highest level of activity you can sustain
Very, very hard 19 to 20 A finishing kick in a race or other burst of activity that you can’t maintain for long

Source: Borg G.A. Psychophysical bases of perceived exertion. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 1982; 14:377-381.

If you were to ask me about my perceived exertionI would probably think I was in the 13 -14 range, but realistically I was around the 11-12 range. Even though the duration (60 minutes) of the exercise was increasing my heart rate, there was not enough intensity for aerobic conditioning.

OK, back to the drawing board… I’m out for another walk to get some more data to torture!