Bill Martin of Hagerstown has a streak going. He has walked for an hour every day since November 1989.
Martin, 77, often walks in the Paradise Road neighborhood north of Hagerstown, surrounded by rolling farmland and with a view of South Mountain to the east. But Martin said he didn't start walking for the view.
It was a matter of life and death.
"I had a five-way heart bypass operation," Martin said. "When I went back for my two-week check-up, the doctor told me to go home and walk an hour a day for the rest of my life."
And he has, walking three to three and a half miles a day for 22 1/2 years. That's about 1,190 miles a year, and 26,700 miles over 22-plus years.
By comparison, the circumference of the Earth is 24,900 miles at the equator.
Mike Weaver is another marathon man. The Maugansville resident started walking five miles a day on Jan. 20, 1996. This month, on June 23, after 16-plus years, Weaver will celebrate his 6,000th consecutive day of walking — a total of 30,000 miles.
Like Martin, Weaver started walking for his health.
"The main reason I started is diabetes runs rampant on my dad's side. Also heart disease," said Weaver, 77. "And so far, so good. I've never had any major medical problems."
Walking is a good, simple way to exercise, according to Tony Clement, associate staff member at the Fitness Center at Hagerstown Community College. But walking — any physical exertion, really — is not valued in modern American society.
"We're an efficiency-based society, so we try to minimize walking. Walking at a brisk pace is not the primary priority in each person's day," he said.
Yet, even simple physical activity is good for a person's metabolism.
And it need not be restricted to a gym. The accumulation of efforts during an average day for the average person is a good start.
"A lot of people don't understand take how many steps you make throughout the day," Clement said. "When you walk, you're making your body work. Your feet stabilize your body, stabilize the motion. Your whole body is moving."
Clement suggested people look for ways to add more steps to your day. Take a walk around the neighborhood or local park with family or friends.
Extend the dog walk. Park your car so you have a long walk to the door when shopping at the mall or the grocery store. Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
"If you have a lunch break, take some colleagues and get out there. Maybe walk to a restaurant instead of driving," he said.
'Exercise' like Gramma
Dr. Mark Cucuzzella is a runner and family physician at Harpers Ferry (W.Va.) Family Medicine. He's also a proponent of basing daily exercise on simple principles, such as walking.
He gave a nod to the 2001 proposal of U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher to get people to walk 10,000 steps a day, a distance of about five miles.
"The most benefit from any physical activity occurs in the first 30 minutes of activity. Anything after that is gravy," Cucuzzella said. "So (by) getting 10,000 steps a day, you'll cover more than 30 minutes."
Being physically active is good for the whole body, Cucuzzella said. An active person resists disease better. Active people get more sleep, have more positive moods, do better at work. All by the accumulation of physical activities during a moderately active day.
But people in the United States have gotten away from physical activity.
"If you go anyplace else in the world, they just move. You'll naturally get 10,000 steps by just existing," he said. "But what's sad is in America, the average American gets less than 5,000 steps a day."
Actually, studies do not agree on how many steps Americans take per day on average.
The Walking Site, a web-based resource for people who walk for exercise, reports a sedentary person may take between 1,000 and 3,000 steps a day.
A study of more than 1,000 subjects published in 2010 in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise reported Americans took an average of 5,117 per day.
An earlier study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise showed showed men took an average of 7,192 steps per day; women took an average of 5,210 steps.
Cucuzzella said modern Americans should move like earlier generations did.
"Walk everywhere. Live like your ancestors," he said. "My grandparents lived in the Bronx. My grandmother didn't exercise and didn't wear a pedometer. But she walked throughout the house, making spaghetti sauce, walking to market."
Martin said his secret to walking every day was to get it over with.
"Do it first thing in the morning. I always walk before I eat," he said. "In the wintertime, I walk at the Valley Mall, and in extreme hot weather, too. Valley Mall opens for walkers at 7 in the morning. In rainy weather, I walk at Long Meadow Shopping Center. There's a covered walkway."
In good weather, Martin walks in his neighborhood. He said he can walk from home to Long Meadow Road and back in an hour.
Martin likes walking at the mall with people he has met over the years.
"It's a great place to meet people," he said. "Time goes a little faster when you've got people to walk with."
Weaver also likes the walk-first-thing-in-the-morning routine.
"I just get up and get ready to walk and go walk and then have breakfast," he said. "But it's all about planning. I might leave the house at a minute past midnight if they're calling for snow."
On his neighborhood walks, Weaver does more than put one foot in front of the other. He carries a bag with him and picks up trash.
"I do a circle from my house. Everyone knows me," he said. "People will stop their car and thank me for picking up trash."
And what's the trick to start walking?
"Just get out in the fresh air and walk," he said. "You've got to start doing it, even if it's a walk around the block. More people should do it."