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A 10,000-step program for health

September 07, 2008|By LYN WIDMYER

Blame it on the Amish.

Several years ago researchers decided to find out why members of an Old Order Amish community stayed slim despite a daily diet of meat, potatoes, gravy, eggs, bread, pies and cakes.

The researchers decided it must be due to their high activity level. The Amish agreed to wear pedometers to count the number of steps they took every day

After a week, researchers tallied the results. Amish men logged an average of 18,000 steps a day. Amish women walked an average of 14,000 steps per day. There are about 2,000 steps to a mile. This means each Amish couple walked 16 miles per day.

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You will be happy to know that American health experts have decided health benefits can be achieved by merely walking 10,000 steps a day - or roughly 5 miles. Walking this distance every day is not easy.

I know because I did it. Two years ago, three colleagues and I entered a team competition at work to see how many steps we could take from May to September. We each pledged to do at least 10,000 steps per day.

By the end of the summer I had walked an average of 5 miles a day. I lost five pounds because I never had time to eat. I was too busy walking.

I had to walk at lunchtime, walk when I came home from work and walk on the treadmill at the gym on rainy days. I never parked close to anything. If friends wanted to get together, they met me at the walking trail in Jefferson Memorial Park.

Our team placed fourth. We celebrated by taking a hammer and smashing our pedometers to smithereens.

For the past two years I have concentrated on the other side of the Amish lifestyle - the part that features cake, bread, meat, potatoes and gravy. I have decided to start walking again.

I hope lots of people in West Virginia will join me in bondage to the pedometer. According to recent studies, West Virginia ranks second in the nation in terms of obesity. If overeating were an Olympic event, we Mountaineers would all be wearing silver medals.

Here in Jefferson County, we need to encourage walking by creating more pathways.

The last two decades of residential expansion have occurred without any comprehensive plan for trails. Thousands of home owners find themselves living in a beautiful county without any way to enjoy nature on foot or on bike or on horseback.

We may not have many park trails in Jefferson County, but we do have sidewalks.

By simply marking distances with a heart logo painted on the pavement, we could create a system of "heart smart" trails that encourage people to walk in their neighborhoods or stroll through towns.

Keeping the distance between each heart logo uniform (about one-tenth of a mile) and keeping the overall trail length reasonable (about one-mile) would help attract novice walkers.

As I start walking again, I know I will never be in the same league as the Old Order Amish. I just want to help get my state off the medal stand for Best in Fat.

Lyn Widmyer is a Charles Town, W.Va., resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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