The Single Best Thing You Can Do For Your Health

During my senior year of college I started feeling sick. It began with a rough-seas hollow in the bottom of my stomach. Nothing I ate tasted right. Then I began to throw up—involuntarily—on a regular basis. Every day for months I felt nauseous until noon.

The doctors hemmed and hawed. Tests were done. It might be a cyst on my kidney, one thought. I lost 19 pounds.

Finally they arrived at a diagnosis everyone seemed to smile at: an inflammation of the duodenum, the short tube that connects the stomach to the small intestines. Basically, I had the beginnings of an ulcer. How fun. I was 21.

Blame it on the pressure of university coming to an end. Blame it on exams, papers to write, major projects, and the whole whopping life-question of what to do next. Whatever the cause, one thing was certain: the stress, constant late nights, and too-full schedule had caught up with me.

They put me on one medication. It didn’t work. They put me on another.

Then one wise doctor asked a life-changing question. “Tell me about exercise,” he said. “What do you do?”

“Well, I’ve got a 12-speed road bike,” I said. “I ride about once a week. And I go snow skiing a couple times each winter.”

“Yeah, but what do you do for exercise every day?”

I gulped. “Uh. Walk from class to the cafeteria?”

“The problem,” said the doc, “is that your mind is doing all the work while your body is sitting around all day. That needs to change.”

He prescribed a simple solution: each day, go for a walk.

I followed the advice. Each evening after classes, I started by walking around the university neighborhood. I found it pretty easy. Sometimes a friend came with me. Most evenings I went by myself.

That was more than 22 years ago and I’m still following the same simple prescription.

Each day, every day, I go for a walk. It doesn’t matter where or when—mornings, afternoons, evenings, depending on changing schedules. I’ve walked in snow, rain, sleet, sunshine, and on treadmills. In LA, Portland, Bellingham, Kelowna, Vancouver, Kenya, Haiti, Mexico, London and Jerusalem. I’ve carried mace and umbrellas and stuck to well lit areas when walking at night. I’ve walked on dirt paths in nature reserves and on sidewalks in suburbs.

I do other things to exercise, sure. But it all comes back to that one simple activity, walking. It clears my head, reduces stress, and helps put things into perspective. I don’t walk a long time, about 25 minutes usually. Consistency is key. My duodenum healed up years ago, and today at age 44 my health is sound.

Walking: it’s the single best thing you can do for your health.

 

Question: What’s the best thing you’ve ever done for your health?