Walking Manhattan to get from 14th and 9th to Strictly Roots in Harlem ( 2058 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd, New York, NY 10027 ) may not seem like an epic walk. Well, not epic enough anyway. I mean it’s only six miles. Nonetheless, Alexis and I decided to head up to Harlem for what was going to be a superlative Vegan dinner.
For the two of us, walking is one of our main sources of exercise. Alexis will tell you that she’s in a lifelong battle with her Itallian genes and I’ll tell you I’m engaged in a battle to fight my type II diabetes through the use of exercise and diet as opposed to medication. Our status as exercise buddies was cemented through a combination of happenstance and the fact that we tend to have great conversations as we walk long distances. You would never know that we weren’t like a brother and sister to listen to us and our routine of daily walking when I am down in NY or Alexis is visiting my family in Massachusetts has been both enjoyable and healthy.
Walking is a gentle, low-impact exercise that can take you to a much higher level of fitness and health than you might imagine. Walking also happens to be a form of exercise accessible to just about everybody. It’s safe, simple and doesn’t require practice, add to that the many health benefits. As we travel on this epic Manhattan walk, I’m going to intersperse some data about why walking is good for you, and how to build up to an epic walking program.
As we head out to walk north from the West Village, we have a special guest walker this week. Amanda Connell, Alexis’ best friend from College and the youngest sister of my wife Torri, has decided to join us. The route is simple enough, as you can see it’s pretty much a straight shot up 8th Avenue to 122nd Street and over a block. Now, if you aren’t used to walking this is going to be slightly more difficult – most people don’t really set out to walk 6 miles on their first go around. Even still, you should try to incorporate walking into your life.
Here’s why. Walking, like other exercise, can help you achieve a number of important health benefits. Walking can help you:
- Lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol)
- Raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol)
- Lower your blood pressure
- Reduce your risk of or manage type 2 diabetes
- Manage your weight
- Improve your mood
- Stay strong and fit
All it takes to reap these benefits is a routine of brisk walking. It doesn’t get much simpler than that. And you can forget all the “no pain, no gain” talk you will here from the exercise industry, research tends to show that regular, brisk walking can reduce the risk of heart attack and other disease factors by the same amount as more vigorous exercise, such as jogging.
So, we decided on a slight variation of the google map route – we would walk up 9th and cut over to 8th at the park. New York at 5:30pm is a busy place for pedestrians. The sea of humanity cruising around in their post work bubbles can be both amusing and frustrating. Amanda, Alexis, and I navigate north at a pretty good pace. A pace that reflects the fact that Alexis and I walk quite a bit these days. Which leads us to the topic of preparation.
Preparation helps avoid injury!
- Walking isn’t as likely to lead to injuries as other types of exercise. Still, take time to prepare yourself to prevent injuries, such as blisters or muscle pain.
- Be sure to wear comfortable footwear. Choose shoes with proper arch support, a firm heel and thick flexible soles to cushion your feet and absorb shock. Before you buy a new pair, be sure to walk in them in the store.
- Dress in loosefitting, comfortable clothing and in layers if you need to adjust to changing temperature. If you walk outside, choose clothes appropriate for the weather. Avoid rubberized materials, as they don’t allow perspiration to evaporate. Wear bright colors or reflective tape after dark so that motorists can see you.
Use proper technique!
Walking is a great exercise because it’s so simple to do. But using the correct posture and movements is essential.
- Warm up: Spend about five minutes walking slowly to warm up your muscles. You can walk in place if you want. Increase your pace until you feel warm.
- Stretch: After warming up, stretch your muscles before walking. Include the calf stretch, quadriceps stretch, hamstring stretch and side (iliotibial) stretch.
- Cool down: To reduce stress on your heart and muscles, end each walking session by walking slowly for about five minutes. Then, repeat your stretches.
Getting started: Focus on the basics
Feel free to start slow and easy. If you’re a seasoned walker, keep doing what you’re doing. If you’ve been inactive and tire easily, it’s best to start slow and easy. At first, walk only as far or as fast as you find comfortable. If you can walk for only a few minutes, let that be your starting point. For example, you might try short daily sessions of five to 10 minutes and slowly build up to 30 minutes four times a week. Then, over several weeks’ time, you can gradually work your way up to 30 to 60 minutes of walking most days each week.
Now Alexis and I are probably walking at least 6 miles a day on our “off days” and closer to 10 to 12 miles on our “on” days. Epic walking days can be as much as 15 miles. When you get to that level, you will certainly notice that there are many activities you can “drop in on” at a higher than expected level. To give you some idea, I go biking occasionally with my friend Chris Whitbeck. Yesterday, according to his bike computer, we did 23 miles at an average pace of 17.1 miles per hour. Chris said that was one of the fastest averages he’d had – and he is a regular at spin class and bikes way more than me. He was wiped for the rest of the day, I ended my day with a 5.25 mile walk around a track while my youngest son was at Lacrosse practice.
If you think walking is something you’re going to enjoy, add a tool like MapMyWalk to your smart-phone and start to measure and track the the intensity of your workouts. If you’re serious about this, you’ll need to set realistic goals. If your goal is to walk two hours a day 365 days a year, you might be setting yourself up to fail. I think Alexis and I agree on a goal of getting in 8 miles most days – and that isn’t all at once – it might be 4 or 5 miles to start the day followed by utilizing the opportunity to walk as your method for getting around at other points of the day to make up the difference. But YOU need to set realistic goals for yourself, such as 1 hour a day for five days a week.
And you don’t need to do it all at once. Build walking into your schedule today. For example, walk for 30 minutes on your lunch break.
Using MapMyWalk to track the distances you walk and how long it takes can help you see where you started from and serve as a source of inspiration. Just think how good you’ll feel when you see how many miles you’ve walked each week, month or year.
Meanwhile we’ve managed to arrive at the top end of Central Park and pass my favorite Museum on the planet: American Museum of Natural History
It brings back fond memories of our family trips to NY both when I was a kid and when my kids were younger. When I bring this up to Alexis and Amanda they agree that it is one of the great museums. Amanda reminds me that she doesn’t get to see her nephews enough and that I should bring them down for a visit. She’s right. I’m thinking a weekend in August will be nice time for that.
Starting a walking program takes initiative. Sticking with it takes commitment. Transitioning to Epic Walking takes determination and internal motivation. But when you think of the potential health benefits, it’s well worth your effort. Over time you’ll likely feel more invigorated.
To stay motivated:
- Make it fun. If you don’t like walking alone, invite your spouse, partner, friend or neighbor to join you. Alexis and I have become really great friends walking together in NY and my wife Torri and I walk together in Acton and catch up on what’s been going on while I’ve been working down in NY.
- Vary your routine. Plan several different walking routes for variety. Walk the routes frontward and backward for variation. Invent new routes all the time.
- Invent new classes of Epic Walking. Like one of these days we’re going to do a 20 mile day, I’m sure of it.
- Sometimes things happen to keep you from sticking to a regular walking program. Sometimes you wind up in a place that just doesn’t accommodate walking like New York or Acton. Don’t be too hard on yourself when this happens. You don’t have to let a few days off sabotage your plan to reach a higher level of fitness and improved health. Just revisit your goals and get walking.
As we enter Harlem my eyes catch hold of an unfamiliar sight. There is a man walking right in front of me with a San Francisco 49ers Jersey with Joe Montana’s number 16. I immediately walk up to him and enquire as to what a 49er fan is doing so far from home. He smiles and informs me ( eventually ) that he picked up the jersey on the street for a bargain basement price, but that it was totally “legit.”
As we cross over to Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd on 122nd Street our anticipation for the much heralded Strictly Roots cuisine builds. Amanda is totally hungry at this point. I’m excited to have found a place that will be easy for Alexis to eat at ( she’s a vegetarian ) without having to think too much about how her food choices might “fit in” to the menu. As we arrive, I realize this Epic Walk is not quite over. Epic failure greets us at the front door of Strictly Roots.
Luckily, Mobay Uptown Restaurant at 17 West 125th Street is only 1/2 a mile away and has some Vegetarian options…
As Amanda says to us: “Part of every Epic Walk plan ought to be enquiring as to the openness of the intended dining establishment…”
Now, to be fair, Strictly Roots reports their hours to be as follows:
And it was a Monday. But She’s right, calling ahead is wise if you are Epic Walking to get to dinner.
You’ll be glad you started walking. Even though the first steps of any journey can be the most difficult, it helps to keep your goals foremost in your mind. So remember, once you take that first step, you’re on the way to an important destination — better health. Once you decide to get to Epic Walking you’ll be on your way to Great Health.
Until next time…