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Prime Time | Marilyn Heltzer: Walking is a great habit, even in midwinter

Here we are in the dead of winter. Or as the poet Christina Rosetti called it, “the bleak midwinter… snow on snow on snow.”

Those are the lyrics to a Christmas carol she wrote a couple of centuries ago. Poor Christina. She died at 64 and in pictures she does not appear to be a cheery person.

If only Christina had known about walking, with its many physical and mental health benefits. Walking in the summertime is a joy. We are blessed hereabouts with walking paths, trails through the woods, gravel and grass-in-the middle roads, and a multitude of places to put one foot in front of the other and enjoy he clear outdoor air.

And then there’s walking in the winter when ice and snow cover our favorite trails as well as all of the leaf-shaded places we can walk in the summer. Which is not too far off, if you believe the poet Shelley: “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?” he asked. Yes, I was an English major, so bear with me. .

Younger folks (or even some in the 65-plus age group) strap on snowshoes or cross country skis, bundle up against the cold, and head out along the trails. Then there are those of us who have abandoned snowshoes and given up our skis. We know all about our aging bones and despite our intake of calcium, we’re well aware that our beautiful bones can fracture, sending us to the ER, the orthopedic surgeon, and home again for lengthy healing and recovery.

And even as we have many trails to walk in the summertime, we are blessed in this town with places to walk indoors in the winter. It doesn’t take a lot of searching to find one. My current favorite is the Gillett Fitness Center at Bemidji State University. When the ice and snow came, I signed up and yes, there’s a senior rate. I walk around the track for twenty minutes or more each day,. Sometimes I see somebody I know, but often I don’t. I put my ear buds and either step to the beat of music, or listen to wise people on the radio talk as I walk. Then there are the days when I forget my iPod and just observe.

Walking was endorsed by the Greek physician Hippocrates who said, “Walking is man’s best medicine” . I assume he meant women, too.

But back to the fitness center: I enjoy seeing all of those young people, running, and walking both on the treadmills and on the track. They are staying fit and the thought, “They’ll live forever” flits through my mind. They’re all great to watch: slim young woman and strong young men, all wearing shorts, pounding along the outer two lanes of the track while we walkers, old and young, move along the inner three lanes. Basketball players, men and women, shoot baskets and dodge and weave if it’s a pick-up game.

There are people of all ages playing tennis on the courts that are inside the running track. Great screens that roll down from the ceiling keep the balls inside. The players are all intent on their game. The pong of tennis balls comes through the air.

And oh the climbing wall! That’s the best part, watching the climbers as I walk past. One day there was a group of teenagers, taking turns strapping on the gear, putting on helmets, and tackling the challenge of the high wall with its with its grips and foot-holds, simulated to look and feel like rock climbing. Each climber is guided by a knowledgeable person holding a rope. One noontime a couple of little kids tackled the wall, with adult supervision and great determination.

Walking, walking. It’s a great habit and I am thankful to have this facility in this town, so close at hand. Soren Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher and poet, knew nothing of the Gillett Fitness Center, but he had this to say: “ Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. But by sitting still, and the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill. Thus if one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right.”