A New You, One Step at a Time

Dan Rubinstein, Carleton's treadmill writer-in-residence, will be walking while he works at the Discovery Centre throughout February. (Christine Lyons Photo)

The new year is not an ideal time to start a new exercise routine in Canada. It’s often cold and dark and quite possibly slushy or icy outside, which is not a problem for people who are comfortable wearing layers and knobby footwear but can be a barrier if you’re not already an enthusiastic winter runner or walker. Even if you plan to work out indoors, getting to the gym can be a challenge. This is why so many resolutions are dropped within weeks, and why fitness clubs bank on customers who sign up for an annual membership and then simply don’t show up.

There’s a movement among health care professionals, however, encouraging people to incorporate physical activity into their daily lives. Don’t treat exercise as a dose or commodity, as a measure to be achieved, they advise. Instead, consider an active commute to school or work. Play outside with your children, or your dog. Walk to the supermarket, or around the block after supper. Shovel snow. Anything.

A growing group of doctors, like Toronto physician Mike Evans, argue that walking is the single most effective thing we can do to take better care of bodies and minds. His whiteboard film 23 ½ Hours, which makes the case for using those other 30 minutes in a busy day to go for a walk, has nearly five million views on YouTube.

Some doctors have started writing prescriptions instructing patients to go for a walk. “This is what I want you to do to treat your high blood pressure or depression or diabetes,” California family doctor Robert Sallis tells patients. “If it’s not enough, then we will consider using a medication.”

The benefits of walking go way beyond physical health. It can also help people address the symptoms and causes of psychological conditions such as anxiety, depression and ADHD. And a series of recent studies have concluded that walking can even give people a creative and cognitive boost. Some of these benefits are associated with being active in a natural environment, but even if you’re in an office on a treadmill, it’s healthier to be in motion than at rest.

The dangers of a sedentary lifestyle have spawned a wave of solutions that make it easier for people to remain active while at work. From walking meetings to standing desks, we are realizing that we don’t need to be hunched over a keyboard to be productive.

The treadmill desk may not be the answer to all of the world’s problems, but throughout February, every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, I’ll be working at one of the two treadmill desks in the Discovery Centre on the fourth floor of the MacOdrum Library, and any Carleton student, faculty member, staffer or alum is invited to hop aboard the adjacent treadmill. As the world’s first treadmill desk writer-in-residence — and a writer and editor with 25 years of experience — I’ll be available as a resource for anybody from the campus community who wants some direction with a writing or communications project.

In addition to extolling the virtues of walking and its ability to help people unlock their creative and cognitive potential, as well as the collaborative properties of being in synch with one another, I’d like to encourage my fellow walker-writers to strive toward more clarity of communication in their work. Because that’s another new year’s resolution people tend to forget as the optimism of January fades into the dark days of February.

As communications coach Jim Gray wrote in the Globe and Mail recently, “millions now speak and write in the workplace with an alarming lack of clarity, grammar and graciousness … an accepted carelessness that’s rendered clear, lean, strategic communication increasingly rare, and thus more potent.”

So let’s work on our health, and our words, one step at a time.

Dan Rubinstein is a senior writer with the Department of University Communications and the author of Born to Walk: The Transformative Power of a Pedestrian Act. Email him at: treadmill@carleton.ca to setup a treadmill session.

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