Hey, so today it’s 50 degrees outside, cold and rainy, and by Monday it’s supposed to be 84. Springtime in the Northeast is so schizophrenic!

However, whatever the weather, you can probably expect to see me outside, getting my walk on.

I work in an office and spend most of my day in front of a computer or hunched over articles, proofreading. Antsy by nature, this kind of work style kills me. I take a bajillion breaks over the course of 8 hours to stretch, spill granola all over my desk instead of in my yogurt cup, do hand exercises, and even sometimes sneak in some tai chi in the bathroom, but all of those combined do not surpass the stress-busting and muscle-stretching relief that is walking.

I’ve been taking daily walking breaks since my first office job out of college. Fortunately, back then I worked in a super-cutesy small town that boasted a main street lined with a Starbucks, sandwich shops, artsy-fartsy studios, and other fun window-shopping storefronts. I could step out of the office for a 5-minute jaunt around the block and be in the company of dog-walkers, baby stroller-pushers, coffee-chugging executives, and tea-sipping grandmoms. It was a downtown–everyone was walking! During my lunch break, when my other coworkers ordered pizza and stayed inside, I’d take my bag lunch and walk a mile roundtrip to an off-the-beaten-path park I called my “secret garden.” A lot of my old job assignments back then required walking, and I had no problem heading out to the streets to interview community members or scour the local bulletin boards.

My current job doesn’t have that much flexibility, and unfortunately I’m no longer surrounded by cafes and libraries–just a Dunkin Donuts, a church, and a fenced-off field that attracts deer and wild turkeys. With my office only a mile or so off the interstate highway, there is no such thing as “going around the block.”

“WHAT THE HECK DO YOU DO DURING LUNCH?!?!?!” I asked my new coworkers when I first started, panicked. My boss stayed inside and worked during lunch. My other colleague drove home. Everyone else either sat at their desk and played on the computer/read or drove somewhere to pick up a lunch they ate back at their desks. Some people ran their car engines for a whole hour just so they could eat their sandwich and soda while sitting in an air-conditioned Camry.

I tried to be sociable at first, sitting in the cafeteria with colleagues or going out to the diner with some coworkers, but by 3 p.m. I felt like I had ants in my pants. I just wanted to MOVE! It was torture sitting at a desk for 3.5 hours in the morning, then sitting in the lunchroom, and then returning to my desk for another 4 hours of sitting. Some Fridays my mom would invite me out to dinner and a show after work, and that was TORTURE! Sitting at work all day, followed by sitting in a restaurant, followed by another 3 hours of sitting in a cramped theater seat?! I’m not gonna lie, there were times I’d rush to the gym after work so I could fit in a few minutes on the treadmill before having to meet my mom or when I’d pick a restaurant only a few miles from my house so I could walk there instead of driving.

Eventually I discovered that my office was only a 2-mile drive from a municipal park with not just a walking path but a wooded trail and one of those fitness circuits. And thus began my new lunch break routine. I was amazed that of my office of almost 200 people, I rarely saw any other coworkers in the park! Nowadays, due to high gas prices and the time to travel to and from the park, I spend my lunch breaks across the street from my office, walking “the loop” around a housing community for seniors 55+. It’s definitely not as stimulating as the park, but the entire development, including all of its cul-de-sacs, is a little over a mile and takes exactly a half hour to walk. Even better, you can still walk the loop the day after a snowstorm because the management hires a grounds crew that shovels and salts the sidewalks!

Taking a walking break during Snowpocalypse 2010

And yeah, I DO walk the loop the day after a snowstorm because once you start a streak it’s hard to break it, especially when your body becomes dependent on 12:30 p.m. walking breaks the same way my brain requires 8 a.m. coffee.

I’m not quite up to mailman-level with my walking (the whole 6 days per week, rain-sleet-snow) thing, but I do try to get outside daily and usually only break the streak for downpours, extreme wind, temperatures below 20 or above 90, icy sidewalks, and on really, really bad hip days. Coworkers come out of the woodwork on suddenly-sunny 65-degree days in March to walk the loop, but only three of us (myself, my cubicle crony Amanda, and some guy we know works at our company but we’re not sure who he is or what he does) swap our work shoes for sneakers winter, spring, summer, and fall. On bad weather days, I’ll try to escape to a meeting room during lunch and do laps around the conference table, push-ups, jumping jacks…anything to get the blood flowing. I have noticed that on days I skip out on either outside walks or conference table laps, my legs feel bloated and achy, and my whole body down to the core feels cold–not even a mug of hot tea will warm me up.

I’m so fanatical about my walks that if a coworker wants to go out to lunch, I’ll check Accuweather beforehand and schedule our lunch date on the day with the worst weather forecast just so I won’t feel bad about skipping “the loop.” And even if I really, really, really like a fellow coworker, I will dreaddddd going to her baby/wedding shower if it is scheduled during my beloved walking time.

However, there may be someone even more fanatical than me–my husband. His new employer, realizing the benefits of exercise, provides a walking initiative that rewards employees for achieving so many steps per day, measured via pedometer. Bryan wears the company-issued pedometer like its his job from morning (yes, he clips it onto his pajama pants) through night, trying to attain the recommended 7,000 steps per day. He uploads the data every few days and gets perks like discounts in return. This guy is so dedicated that on days he is short of missing the mark, he’ll loop around the mall for some extra mileage or pace around the house at 11 at night…at which point I tell him to either grab a dust rag or the vacuum and kill two birds with one stone.

Because my bum hip prevents me from doing things like using the elliptical or running, I depend on walking a lot as my main form of exercise. I took a personal day today and had a hair appointment at 10, but I woke up early enough so I could fit in a 4-mile walk before breakfast (and before the rain came our way). On days that I know are going to be heavy on the sitting (e.g., Thanksgiving, Christmas), I’ll be sure to get in a long walk before driving over the river and through the woods.

Walking isn’t always easy, especially if you’re aiming for more than 5 miles and don’t have the luxury of walking along the shoreline, through exciting areas like Manhattan, or through a scenic wooded trail. Sometimes walking around my neighborhood is just plain boring, no matter how many times I tell myself to breathe deeply, live in the moment, and soak in the wonderment of everything around me. I live in the suburbs–it’s bungalow after bungalow after bungalow. Chain-link fences, vinyl siding, crooked sidewalks, shady houses with Christmas decorations still up in April. Sometimes I’ll try to go where there is more nature, but most of time all that means is more geese poo on my sneakers when I come home.

My question for you, then, is what are some tips to making the most out of walking? How do you turn a ho-hum activity into something enjoyable, especially on those 40-degree days with a 30-degree wind chill? What I’ve found works for me is walking with friends (provided we match pace), listening to NPR podcasts on my iPod Nano (Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me is my favorite), reading a magazine simultaneously (provided the path is relatively flat and obstacle free), and using Nordic walking poles (or as my husband calls them, my invisible skis). I used to carry handweights but found out that throws off your center of gravity, and I’ve stopped wearing ankle weights too, since that was NOT helping my hip situation. I’ve read that weighted vests are the “weigh” to go since they don’t alter your form; I’m very curious about them, but they’re kind of pricey and I want to be sure they’re worth it.

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