Diapers and boobs, I was told, were all I’d really need when my husband and I took our baby home from the hospital in February. But a pair of something else has proved just as invaluable: my feet.
Turns out my 4-month-old really likes to walk. And because she can’t do it herself yet — there’s that whole crawling thing to conquer first — it’s up to me to do the walking.
I’ve always been a devout pedestrian, happy to hoof distances most people would prefer to drive. My kid somehow digs movement even more. She isn’t interested in pausing to chat, or study a sign. We tried accompanying a neighbor and his elderly dachshund on a stroll, and the frequent sniff breaks bored her to tears. Actual, sad tears.
Here’s the thing about infant demands. You can’t ignore them. So I’ve marched onward through my maternity leave, constantly wearing, carrying or pushing my dimpled dictator. The result? I feel pretty great, both physically and mentally. (Or as well as can be expected, considering my sleep deficit and a diet consisting of foods that can be consumed using only one hand.)
It’s like having a Fitbit that giggles and poops. And it’s a reminder that simply putting one foot in front of the other is an incredibly effective exercise routine.
Bossy newborns aren’t the only ones pushing for mileage these days. Public health advocates, transportation planners and tech gurus have teamed up to promote walking in every aspect of daily life. Phones feature built-in pedometers, offices are accommodating workers at treadmill desks, and streets are being redesigned to be more appealing to folks on foot.
In his swearing-in speech in December, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy promised to issue a call to action this year encouraging communities to promote walking. District Mayor Muriel Bowser is already on it: The just-launched FitDC initiative aims to count up 1 billion steps from Washingtonians, starting with eight “Ward Walks.”
Just how rocking is walking? A band called the Walking Guys plans to set off on a 1,600-mile East Coast tour this summer, funded through Kickstarter. Instead of traveling by bus, the acoustic quartet will be hiking the whole way, stopping to perform more than 50 shows, including several in the D.C. area in early September.
“To the best of our ability, we can’t find anybody who’s ever done this,” says singer, songwriter and guitarist Christopher Kessenich, who signed on to the project in search of an adventure.
I’m sure they’ll find one. That’s where walking truly has a leg up on other forms of exercise — it takes you to places at a pace that allows you to interact with the people and environment around you.
For a story last year, I walked the border of the District on a nearly 40-mile, multi-day mission that let me see my home town in a completely new way. I met an owl, got invited to a burial and learned about the segregated history of bridge (the card game).
The project was inspired by an annual event in New York called the Great Saunter. Organized by the Shorewalkers, whose motto is “Seeing the world at 3 miles per hour,” it’s a 32-mile trek around the island of Manhattan.
This year marked the 30th anniversary of the Saunter, so I had to register. And when I met my baby, I realized I had produced the perfect training partner.
Thus it was that just after dawn on the first Saturday in May, I waved goodbye to my husband and the kid as I gathered with 1,234 other assorted amblers at Fraunces Tavern, a historic pub in the financial district that once served as George Washington’s headquarters.
We wended our way from the lower tip of the island up the West Side through a string of parks dotted with Little Leaguers, Zumba enthusiasts and sun worshippers. We were beginning to huff and puff as we passed the George Washington Bridge, about 11 miles into the journey.
And then we arrived at a spot that took my breath away: Inspiration Point, a gorgeous temple improbably plopped high above the Hudson River. It lived up to its name, giving my gang motivation as we trekked on through the wilds of Inwood Hill Park, and then turned south, making our way past charming Swindler Cove on the upper upper upper East Side.
Quite a few people asked whether we were lost, and when we told them, “Nah, we’re just walking around the city,” they seemed even more baffled by our presence.
But I never doubted what we were doing, or that we would get to our destination — eventually. Yet another perk of plodding along is that the human body is capable of doing it for an exceptionally long time. We hit the 26.2-mile mark, and just kept on going.
When I arrived back at the start and reunited with my family, I was a bit wobbly and seriously in need of a shower. But when my husband asked what I wanted to do the next day, I didn’t hesitate. “The kid would like crossing the Brooklyn Bridge,” I told him. “So we should go for a walk.”
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How do I plan to top that? Well, by walking away from this column. After eight sweaty years of chronicling my exercise escapades, I’m retiring from MisFits duty. My family is moving to Italy, where I expect to have a lot of post-dinner strolls with a gelato in hand.
Also at washingtonpost.com Read past MisFits columns at washingtonpost.com/wellness . There, you can subscribe to the Lean & Fit newsletter to get health news e-mailed to you every Wednesday.