The state of walking

Our view : Let us now stand in praise of an official form of exercise

May 14, 2008

There are a couple of dozen things that are designated as Maryland's official something-or-other, from trees to flowers, sports to fish. Yesterday, Gov. Martin O'Malley signed into law one more - walking is now the official state exercise.

Some people will no doubt get a good chortle out of that. Instead of addressing the great questions of the day (pick a controversial political topic, any topic), the naysayers will grouse, that bunch in Annapolis has decided to make walking the state exercise. Maybe swimmers and joggers couldn't muster the votes. Bicycling's lobbyist must have gotten caught with his kickstand down.

But if anything merits a little free publicity - and such designations are essentially cost-free - it's the too-often-forgotten joys of walking. As Thomas Jefferson, who spent a little time in Annapolis himself, once wrote, "Walking is the best possible exercise."

Maryland, like the rest of the nation, is caught up in an obesity epidemic. Too often, walking is simply something one does to get to and from the car. TV remotes put on more mileage than the average pair of legs. This can lead to an unwelcome convenience - a shorter stroll to the Pearly Gates.

The U.S. surgeon general recommends about 30 minutes of moderate activity per day, and walking fits the bill nicely. It's more convenient, it's cheaper and it causes less strain than many of the alternatives. New benefits of walking seem to be uncovered every day, from lowering blood pressure to boosting "good" cholesterol. It has even been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer and Type 2 diabetes.

And considering the General Assembly's willingness to make frosting-rich Smith Island cake the state's official sweet, it's only fair to give similar honors to a humble form of exercise that can lessen the caloric confection's potentially adverse impact on the populace.

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