Power walk, and leave your malaise behind


February 08, 1993|By TOM PETERS

The Queen's Household Cavalry exercising their horses on the fringes of Hyde Park. Christmas decorations in the shop windows of Vienna. Choking smog at 5 a.m. on the streets of Bangkok. Icy, pre-dawn wind blowing off Lake Ontario one February in Toronto. The great blue heron that makes its home on Upper Hollow Road in Dorset, Vt.

These are a dollop of the experiences I've had, looking back on four years (almost to the day, as you read this) of systematic exercising.

Is it legit to devote a management column to wishing my personal exercise program happy birthday? Since business increasingly demands vitality and personal renewal, I think so.

During a seminar a little more than four years ago, I got worked up as the devil. One of the participants, an officer of Sutter Health in Sacramento, later left a message at my office declaring that, at 46, I was a "walking heart attack in the making" and offering a complimentary treadmill fitness test.

I read his communication a few days later in a Houston hotel. Though I hated consistent exercise (racquetball, too time-consuming; rowing machines, too boring; etc.), his message hit home. I got out of bed and went walking for 10 minutes on a street near the hotel. I haven't stopped since.

A week or so later, I'd bought a book and was trying to practice, on a beach in Hawaii, the right way to swing my arms for aerobic or power walking. A week after that, with bloody blisters and shinsplints that sent searing pain up both legs, I was walking (skidding is more like it) at 15 degrees below zero in Dorset.

And 3 1/2 years later, I finally had the treadmill test; the doctor declared (I say with no hint of modesty) that my chances of a heart attack, despite 20 pounds gained during the year I wrote my last book, were those of someone half my age.

Yes, this is an unabashed tribute to power walking (called dork walking by some, because of its awkward look). It has changed my life.

More and more evidence says regular exercise is of significant value to one's health. It probably increases life expectancy a bit (especially if it shaves a few points from the likes of my slightly elevated blood pressure). Of equal import, it almost surely adds to the quality of life (e.g., more supple joints at age 60 and beyond).

While I keep at my walking for health's sake (obsessively -- I'm guilt-stricken when I miss a single day), that's not the greatest of the benefits.

Mainly, walking is a cure for white-collar malaise (modernity's malaise?). In days past, I'd arrive at Heathrow Airport outside London at 10 p.m. and take a cab straight to my downtown hotel. Check in and be asleep by midnight. Up at 5:30 a.m. to prepare for a seminar. Elevator down to the seminar. Present my "stuff" from 9 to 5. Another cab to the airport. Off to Frankfurt or Paris, Stockholm, Brussels, New York.

Where had I been? London? Des Moines? Seoul? Why was I doing what I was doing? Who was in charge of my life? The answer to all of the above: Beats me!

But now, feet waggling at 12 minutes to the mile, that's changed. I get up 45 minutes earlier and head out, often before first light. Sometimes it's a lovely park (Hyde Park in London). Sometimes a grim airport parking lot (Paris a while back, Chicago more recently). Sometimes downtown streets. Or the matchless River Walk in San Antonio.

Sometimes, on the road, it's the five miles I usually do at home. Sometimes it's just 20 minutes up Fifth Avenue in New York, 15 blocks and back in the ominous dark. It all counts. I'm awake. Alive. My lungs are filled with air. I am master of my destiny.

In fact, walking has become my meditation -- on life's abiding mysteries, the details of this column, next week's speech to a thousand bankers, the Clinton administration's trade policy or the Oakland Athletics' 1993 prospects. (When the walk becomes agonizing, on a mercilessly hot, humid day, I distract myself by multiplying three-digit numbers by three-digit numbers.) My days revolve around my walk. It's invariably a highlight. A time to sort things out, to get my life in order (or disorder, if it's too orderly -- which it sometimes is).

I used to hate self-righteous ninnies who bragged about their exercise regimens. I still do, which is why I stopped myself from writing this column on several occasions in the past two years. But this time my resistance lost out. For me, the daily punctuation mark has become the main event on pressure-packed seminar days and leisurely Saturdays amid the Green Mountains of Vermont.

What works for me may not work for you. Probably won't. Still, as you deal with behind-deadline projects, the threat of layoff or grand corporate strategy, I'd urge you to ponder health, meditation, life -- and consider a 15-minute walk in the park tomorrow morning.

(Tom Peters' column is distributed by the Tribune Media Services Inc., 720 N. Orange Ave., Orlando, Fla. 32801; [407] 839-5600.)

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