70. It Pays to Keep Walking

70. It Pays to Keep Walking

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Shaping the New You

It Pays to Keep Walking

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
 ~Walt Whitman

My husband and I are both very creative. Dave is currently the househusband, but in his spare time he plays guitar and writes songs. I sew quilts and do freelance writing when I’m home from my full-time job. We are building our own house from the ground up. As a result of constantly being involved in our projects, we are not very sports-minded. The most activity I usually do outside is gardening, and Dave fixes our vehicles himself and runs most of the errands around town. We are involved in church activities and we play with our grandkids. But most of what we do is indoors, sitting down.

We’ve had quite a few medical problems and managed to rack up a lot of bills in the past for doctors and medical tests. Then in 2007 Dave had a heart attack and I was diagnosed with the muscle disorder fibromyalgia. We took a good look at making some lifestyle changes. Dave worked on the meal planning, which I benefited from as well. We both started losing weight. But we were also advised to get more exercise.

Walking. That’s all we needed to do. Just walk every day. Somehow that just didn’t fit in with our normal schedule, and we knew we were in for a challenge. We had already tried going to a gym, using a treadmill, etc. but nothing worked to keep us walking. Even just remembering to walk every day was a drawback for both of us.

Our latest medical issues provided new incentive to get more serious about this, so we made our usual resolution to walk more. Dave drove down to the small lake below us and walked around it nearly every day, a good half hour of exercise. He admired the scenery, took pictures of the ducks and geese, and seemed to be doing fine with this routine, for a while. But as the initial shock of having a heart attack began to wear off, daily distractions took over and Dave began to plan less time-consuming exercise. A brisk walk down to the “Y” in our dirt road and back up the other side took only 20 minutes and was up- and downhill. That seemed to work at first. But he gradually grew more forgetful and when the weather was bad, it was difficult to keep it up.

My daily walking needed to be mostly at work because by the time I got home, I was too tired to do anything. Sometimes I even had to take a nap because of my fibromyalgia. I resolved that I would get away from the desk at break times and walk for 10 minutes. Two breaks would be 20 minutes. Unfortunately, I tended to be less dedicated when it was too hot, or too cold, or raining, or snowing, or I was too achy, or I wanted or needed to do something else during my break! I knew if I walked more I would feel better and maybe not need so many naps, but I still struggled with walking every day. However, my real worry was Dave. He had a life-threatening possibility if he didn’t keep up his walking. Something had to be done, so I prayed for a way to keep us both motivated to walk.

At last one day I had an idea. It seemed kind of silly at first, but I actually thought it might work so I told Dave about it. What if we paid ourselves to walk? My plan was this: we would each keep track of our walking time on the calendar, adding it up as “walking points.” Whenever we reached 120 points, we would get $10 to spend or save for whatever we wanted. In addition to the money, I figured there would be a little competition, which might add to the motivation.

Since our money is always budgeted for bills and living expenses, or catching up on credit cards, we don’t often have anything extra to buy things that are not necessary. Dave is always window-shopping in catalogs and online for electronic equipment to go with his music playing or song recording. Yet he almost never has the opportunity to buy any. I often want some clothes or certain books that are out of our price range.

Dave liked the idea, so we started applying it, and to our surprise, it worked! Dave soon began keeping up his 20 minutes a day. One of the first things Dave bought was a bass guitar. (Now that’s incentive!) Another time he got an MP3 player. As I write this, he has saved up $155 for some unknown item he hasn’t decided on yet.

The plan worked for me as well. I was now more inclined to walk at work during my break time. There was a certain pair of fancy shoes I wanted to buy, and a $50 sweater in a catalog. I found myself walking specifically to earn points to be able to get those items.

The competitive side of the plan worked as well. We found ourselves telling others that we had to go out for walks so we could earn our walking points. “Dave is way ahead of me this week,” I would say. One time I kept forgetting something in the car at a large church gathering outdoors, and Dave teased me. “You’re just walking back to the car so you can get more points!”

When I first thought of this idea, I also wondered how we could afford it. But as I told Dave at the time, if we kept walking we might save on medical bills. Didn’t it make sense to stay healthier and not need a doctor? We had spent thousands of dollars on medical bills in the past. Why not spend it on ourselves to stay healthy?

For us, this plan has worked 18 months and counting. Sometimes I just want $10 for something special, and other times I save it up for something more expensive. And thank God, we have been healthier—what a bonus! Our doctor bills have been generally lower this past year. Could it be that the walking points plan not only kept us walking but also actually saved us money?

We may never know the answer to that, but one thing we can say for sure: it definitely pays to keep walking!

~Laurie Penner

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