Down Takoma Park's Carroll Avenue they went, enjoying the cool morning breeze, past leafy trees, bus stops and storefronts and curious stares, a loose line 30-strong and wearing identical caps, T-shirts and "Fit & Free" pins.

Thirty more had gone just before, setting off from the grounds of Washington Adventist Hospital for a one-mile hike, and 42 others were taking other routes, all converging on the final destination -- the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists on Eastern Avenue, their place of work and the world headquarters of their church.

Most walked briskly, and a few jogged or rode bikes to mark the first "Fit and Free Walk to Work," part of a health awareness program sponsored by the church for its 450 headquarters employes. Nearly one-quarter of the staff took part, and at least one nonparticipant was on the scene in the lobby, opening doors for a walker with a cheerful "Don't give up, you've only got five more steps!"

Dr. Rudolf E. Klimes, director of health and temperance ministries for the church's North American division and an enthusiastic jogger himself, came up with the idea for Wednesday's event and was pleased with the turnout.

"We thought at least once a year people should test their own physical abilities to see if they're up to a little walk, and if they're not," Klimes said, "it's time for an exercise program to combat the effects of desk jobs in "such a sedate society."

The participants who forsook their usual car and subway rides said they felt better for it. Some walked farther than the suggested one mile, like accounting clerk Gwen Dick, 46, who chalked up nine miles. She started shortly after 5 a.m. in balmy temperatures: "It was dark but nice," she said. "We couldn't ask for more perfect weather." The darkness didn't bother Lillian Elliott, who cycled 17 miles to work. "My husband followed me for six miles" with his car lights on until the sun came up, she said. "I was thirsty," she added, but "felt great."

For secretaries Marie Blevins and Evelyn Ward, the walk was nothing unusual. Three times a week, the pair spend the last 40 minutes of their lunch hour walking around the neighborhood, enjoying the fresh air, sunshine and exercise. "You should see us in the winter," said Ward, who steps out in jogging shoes.

Some found benefits beyond health concerns, like secretary Kola John, who came "to be with the other people" in something other than a "work situation."

Organizer Klimes said he'd be interested in helping other companies and organizations develop similar programs. "We want to make the city aware of the possibilities for people to walk to work," he said.

This week's walk may become an annual affair, and the "Fit & Free" program will be promoted throughout the rest of the church, which has 3.8 million followers worldwide, 600,000 in the United States and Canada. Adventists, who neither smoke nor drink alcohol, are typically health conscious and invest millions annually in health food factories and health care clinics and programs throughout the world.

Typical of this week's enthusiasts was personnel manager Merle Mills, who said he's been a jogger for 20 years, normally doing two miles a day. Wednesday he walked the two miles for a change. And how did he find it? "It was duck soup," he said.