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Walk this way: Better health lies ahead

A quick stroll can provide far more benefits than one thinks

Ask a pitching coach how many walks are too many and he's likely to tell you, "One." Ask a cardiologist the same thing and they might say, 'There's no such thing as too many walks." It's pretty easy to tell where this is going.

Very rarely would a walk be considered the most exciting play in a baseball game. It's really a way to penalize a pitcher for being sloppy or perhaps demonstrating bad habits. For you and me, a walk is the perfect way to start a good routine of cleaning up our health.

"We preach it all the time," said Kathy Shillue, a physical therapist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. "I think some people think we're exaggerating, but the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other is literally the first step towards better health."

So what do cardiologists and pitching coaches have in common? They both know that an intentional walk can be a good thing. Seriously, patients who have undergone bypass surgery are encouraged to be up and on their feet the next day.

Walking may not seem enticing, but if somebody gave you the chance to walk from home plate to first base at Fenway Park you would probably jump at the chance, right? Why not step outside and walk down your sidewalk that same 90 feet? "What's the point?" you ask. Well, even small walks can add up.

Did you know that Barry Bonds, the all-time Major League leader in bases on balls, strolled more than 43 1/2 miles from home plate to first base over the course of his career?

You're not going to go out and walk 43 miles today or tomorrow, but you might walk around the track once or twice at your local high school, or even around the block. And it adds up. Walks can be quite effective in reversing some of the consequences of neglecting to tune up these marvelous organisms we inhabit. The benefits begin almost immediately.

"A regular walking program will improve your cardiovascular health. Your blood pressure will begin to come down," Shillue said. "Walking is a wonderful way to burn calories and lose weight."

If you do only one thing, make that one thing walking. Who knows, you might soon follow it up with a run? That's what Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson often did. Many of his 1,406 career stolen bases followed one of his 2,190 career walks. That adds up to over 50 miles of running and walking. Throw in the 335 times he was caught stealing, and that's well over two marathons on the basepaths.

Walking is great. But maybe you want to mix in a little dancing, like the folks at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center did. They created the music video "Walking Around Boston" and are encouraging local schools and businesses to begin their own walking clubs. Red Sox outfielder Darnell McDonald is one of many local celebs who got on the bandwagon in the video. Actually, I should say they walked alongside the bandwagon.

Even I showed off my stuff, and I'm pretty easy to spot. Look for the guy with the best dance moves ... I'm just to his left.

"One of the reasons I like to recommend walking is because it requires very little up-front investment," Shillue said. "You don't need to join a gym or buy an expensive bike or any fancy equipment. A good pair of walking shoes is all you need. Walking doesn't put a lot of stress on your joints or muscles, so there's not a great risk of injury either."

Think about it. It can't hurt. Unless you're Hughie Jennings. He's baseball's all time hit-by-pitch leader. Hughie was plunked 287 times in his career. HBP doesn't count as a walk, but he gets the credit in my book. That's a shade under five miles, the hard way.

Gary Gillis is a contributor to The BID Injury Report is a regular column on Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is the official hospital of The Boston Red Sox.
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