Every diet, every gym, every workout infomercial comes with a “CYA” warning, alerting consumers to consult with a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise routine. If you actually consult with a doctor they will encourage a slow start to a new program, often promoting the adoption of a daily walk. When I began to work with doctors and coaches on finding a maintainable way to get to, and stay at, a healthy weight they quickly started dolling out praises on the power of a good walk. Since exercise is synonymous in my head with sweat and pain, walking is not an activity I approach with the same fervor of an aerobics class. I considered tackling this issue as a byproduct of my years as an exercise bulimic, a condition that causes people to over-exercise in an effort to burn every calorie they consume. However, upon analysis it became apparent that my attitude that walking is not really exercise was not a problem but actually quite healthy. By viewing walking as just an activity and not exercise, I was less likely to abuse it. Still, there are so many people who share my “walk is not exercise” mindset and forego this healthy activity in lieu of more strenuous workouts, but this attitude is easily fixed with the addition of a furry friend.
Each morning starts with the same routine, performed with such uniform precision that even a German engineer would be proud. After rolling from bed and visiting the bathroom, I reach for a pair of jeans and just the sound of the fabric hitting my toes wakes Luna and Solei, my two dogs, from their deep slumber. All it takes is the quiet noises of getting dressed to alert them of the start of a new day. Each morning this same pattern is repeated, shortly followed by the phrase “wanna go for a walk?” The dogs immediately jump and cry and run and bark in eager anticipation of a walk around the neighborhood. The only thing that gets the dogs more excited then going for a w-a-l-k is going "buh bye car." I try to think if there are any phrases that would evoke the same level of excitement as these two do for my pups and the only thing that comes close is “wanna go for Dairy Queen?” Sad to say even that doesn’t have me running, crying or barking nearly as much as the dogs.
The benefits of our daily walk go well beyond exercise. We have a little saying in our house, “A tired puppy is a good puppy,” and this mantra is supported by America’s favorite Dog Person, Cesar Milan (aka the Dog Whisperer). The daily walk started not for my own exercise needs, but when Luna was a puppy and the only way to knock the “Schnoodle 500” zoomie energy out of her was with a good, long walk. That was nearly 4 years ago and she, and her little sister, still requires a fair amount of exercise to ensure our furniture is not destroyed out of “when are Mom and Dad coming home from work?” boredom. For those having issues with a destructive dog, my two are living proof that a tired dog won’t chew your shoes.
Before getting a dog the only neighbors I knew were those immediately around us. Exploring your neighborhood on foot allows opportunities for striking up conversation, actually getting to know the people you share a zip code with. Having a dog amplifies the experience as they make acquaintance with the rear ends of other neighborhood dogs. This method of meeting people does come with a funny issue; no one actually knows me by my real name and instead refers to be as Luna and Solei’s Mom. That’s okay, because I am just as guilty of calling people Monte, Lady, Freya, Sam and Buddy’s parents. Because of the walk, and the dogs, people are friendly, wave and say hi, the kind of interaction with neighbors that many people lack these days.
Walking through my neighborhood also reminds me that as much as I hate Minnesota (my biggest search term hit on the site, I should include it in every post), I love my quaint area that somehow sits only miles from downtown. In a couple of mile loop we pass ponds, a golf course, and a creek. We share our path with deer that stop and stare at us on our walk, like we are some strange animal, unnatural in their habitat. In the fall the ground crunches from the leaves of hundreds of oak and elm trees. The lushness spring blooms makes it nearly impossible to see what awaits around the next corner. The scenery never gets old and I am in constant awe at the neighborhood that is more like a nature preserve.
People often ask me why I walk the dogs every morning when I have a large, fenced in back yard. My retort is the walk is just as much for me as it is for them. Just as the daily walk is not exercise in my head, it is also not a chore. Beginning each day with a walk is calming, therapeutic, and relaxing. Unless the rain is of biblical proportions or temperature bone crushing, the show goes on. I cannot make a job or life change that would prohibit this daily ritual; walking my neighborhood with two leashes in hand has become just as much a part of the day as brushing my teeth and enjoying a cup of coffee. My coworkers seem so frazzled every morning, starting their days with kiddie carpool mix-ups, daycare horror stories, long commutes, fights over breakfast, or early conference calls. Missing the walk throws me completely off my rails and has repercussions on my work and personal performance; it is a non-negotiable part of my day. I’m a better employee, a better neighbor, a better pet-parent, overall a better person because of this time to myself; getting a little exercise on top of all that is just icing on the cake.