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Taking the first step


Last updated 6/26/2019 at Noon

I heard two ugly travel stories last week, not very soothing as summer season takes off. Both involved planes that were supposed to be flying, and were not.

Both of these people shared some details publicly, as people do, meaning that I am now required by law to judge them.

One had planned a trip back east, partly business but with what sounded like a fair amount of pleasure involved. The airline canceled his flight at the last moment, and he seemed to feel that their customer service representatives were less than helpful.

He complained bitterly about this, even after his flight was rescheduled and he made his trip after all. I got the impression that he sincerely believed this airline had decided to make his specific life miserable, which is understandable but not rational, not really.

This is an airline with one of the best records in terms of customer satisfaction and other metrics.

I should note that this man did not spend any unnecessary time in an airport. He was at home when this whole mess started, and in the worst-case scenario he was going to be sleeping in his own bed that night.

As I say, it’s understandable that he was upset, although it could have been worse.

My friend Pat knows about the worse part. After traveling to South Dakota for a wedding last week, she found herself in Dallas with a slew of tornados in the area, shutting down flights. Hundreds of travelers were stranded, hotel rooms were booked, and Pat spent 24 hours at DFW before finding a flight home to Seattle.

Sleep-deprived and more than a little stressed, Pat responded in a way that makes me smile, and probably has many of you nodding your heads: She got her steps in.

Now sporting an Apple Watch (or something similar; I didn’t get a good look), Pat decided a while back to set a goal of reaching that magic number of 10,000 steps, not every day but on many of them. This doesn’t surprise me, having known her for a few years now.

She’s a retired elementary school teacher, apparently a much-beloved one, a petite, fit-appearing woman whose age is advertised only by lovely white hair and a couple of hearing aids.

It sounded reasonable, then, for Pat to start collecting 10,000-step days, now that she had this fancy doodad on her wrist. She decided she wanted to have 80 of those days before her birthday at the end of July. One for every year.

If you’re surprised that a woman standing in the on-deck circle for octogenarians would be focused on physical fitness, I suspect you’re either pretty young or else just waking up from a very long nap. Pat didn’t need a watch to tell her to keep moving, just a calendar.

This is the way we are now, or this is how it feels.

Growing up, the only person I knew over 80 was my great-grandmother, blind and confined to a chair, a person treated with deference and respect by my family but appearing ancient to me, at the end of life and counting.

Now I roll my eyes at 80, and yawn. Some of it surely is because I’m closer to that number than I used to be, but I just need to look around. I know quite a few people in their ninth decade, and none of them are confined to anything.

And most of them are walking.

A recent article by Robert Roy Britt caught my eye, an overview of recent studies on aging, longevity, and regular walking. I began walking routinely a dozen years ago, which is why I take note of these things. I make so few good decisions, I tend to wallow in the better ones.

I just started walking because I wanted to drop some pounds, and any help was welcome. It worked out, although I quickly became aware that any extra calories I knocked off could be easily replaced by a donut.

But c’mon. It’s a donut. I’d walk a few miles for that.

It was my mood, mostly. Walking made me feel better, and it was easy to do. We were made for ambulation, anyway; we’re bipedal creatures for a reason. We’re supposed to walk.

And now we have science to back up the obvious. That 10,000 steps thing is similar to the notion that we need to drink eight glasses of water a day; these can be traced to innocuous beginnings that have no basis in fact.

According to Mr. Britt’s reporting, though, simply increasing the amount we move, not even with deliberate exercise, just getting a bit more active, has an attractive benefit: We live longer, and better, lives.

If you have a fitness tracker of some sort, even adding 2,000 steps per day (about a mile) makes a significant difference, and forget about that 10,000 figure; studies suggest that 7,500 per day is plenty to get benefits, and every step counts.

Even the ones to the donuts.

I think Pat figured this out years ago, long before technology gave her a hand. When it comes to aging, it seems that the more we move, the more we stay the same. Although she may have to revise her goal of 80 days of walking.

“I’m thinking of going for 100,” she said the other day, and I have a feeling she’ll make it.


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