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Canadian geese on the Vita Trail at Byrd Park in Richmond

My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was 60. She’s 97 now and we don’t know where the hell she is.

—Ellen DeGeneres

I’ve never been much of a runner. Oh, who am I kidding? I’ve never been a runner. I remember getting winded in high school before ever reaching the first curve in the outdoor track. Now that I’m older, my knees are shot. And it wasn’t from running, I can tell you that. And so, especially after my back gave me so much trouble this fall, I’ve begun walking regularly—physical therapist’s orders. My friend Andrea and I meet at Byrd Park in Richmond three mornings a week and walk two miles on the Vita Trail, or walking path. I took this picture of Canadian geese in September with my iPhone, during a layover in their Southern migration. (I know they’re looking for food, but seriously, why walk when you can fly?)

In truth, I have always liked walking. My mother never learned how to drive (well, she did after my father died, but that’s another story), so we walked a lot of places. Or took a taxi, which I found excruciatingly embarrassing, especially when it involved going to the supermarket where I was certain someone from school would see us; or we would bide our time until she could line up my grandfather or one of her friends to drive us where we needed to go.

I remember running—walking—errands for her when I was young; going to Dombrowski’s, the corner store, to pick up milk and bread. If she wanted something that they didn’t carry, I’d walk down one more block to Frank’s Market. I walked to church (one mile); to my grandparents’ house (a quarter-mile); and—when I was really in a jam, home from high school (just under three miles). And all of this before anyone ever really thought of walking as exercise. Back then, it was just the easiest way to get from one place to another.

Never an athlete, I looked for the path of least resistance when it came to my physical education requirement in college. That’s how I discovered power walking. It was great! I could actually burn calories, get my heart rate up, and tone my legs simply by putting one foot in front of the other at a brisk pace. Who knew?

Now that I’m in my fifties, exercise is more crucial than ever before, and not just because of my age. My father died of a heart attack at the age of 48, so genetics isn’t necessarily on my side; I need aerobic exercise to help combat the hand I was dealt. The genes that my mother contributed brought their own shortcomings to the table. She had severe osteoporosis; a fractured hip, her second, led to her death in 2000 along with complications from dementia. I’ve been diagnosed with osteopenia, so a weight-bearing exercise such as walking is hugely beneficial for someone with my history. I’ll be writing more about issues of bone loss in future posts. But as for walking, it is clear that the health benefits are legion.

It’s not easy to incorporate regular and varied exercise into your life if it was never really there to begin with, so for me, walking is the least expensive and most advantageous thing I can do right now. I do have to be cautious, however; after breaking my left leg at the knee several years ago, I find myself in pain if I start out too quickly. With the weather turning colder, both knees are stiff and sore. I know that I’ll have to find a walking substitute soon.

I might try this new thing called Walk-ilates, moves that focus on weak muscles affecting one’s stride. That sounds good. (Although you apparently need a magic circle and a foam-roller-thingie to do the exercises. I used to have a magic circle, but I can’t remember—did I sell it before moving to Virginia? Is it packed away up in the attic? These are the thoughts that deter me from getting on with an exercise program.)

Walk-ilates won’t fulfill my need for aerobic exercise during the winter months, but for that I might be able to incorporate the steps in our townhouse. Or pretend to be a goose and chase the cat around.