There is a simple, gentle low-impact exercise, accessible to almost everyone over the age of two, that helps prevent diabetes, heart disease, and dementia, reduces the risk of stroke, increases the odds of cancer survival, and is shown to improve your sex life.  It’s safe, simple, requires no practice, equipment, or –important in these cash-strapped times– expensive gym membership. It can be performed almost anytime, anywhere and it will set you back only the price of a decent pair of shoes.  Can you guess?  Have you got it?  That’s right, smarty-pants!  It’s walking!

From my house in an older Salem neighborhood, I walk to the grocery store, the park, Olinger pool, the Saturday Market, and downtown.  I can walk to Joe Mocha’s and meet a friend for morning coffee or to Word of Mouth Bistro for lunch.  I can walk to the drycleaners, to Christo’s Pizza and the Salem Cinema. If my kids were young, they could walk to Englewood School, Parrish Middle School, or North Salem High.  If I hung out in bars, I could walk to one of several in the neighborhood and stagger home without risk of jail time.   Walking has the great advantage of multi-tasking: not only do you increase muscle, lose fat, and lower bad cholesterol, you can run errands!

You can check the “walkscore” of your neighborhood on Type in your address and get a list of places to which you can walk, as well as a cute Google Maps photo of your house.  (One caveat:  I found the score for my address too low – many of the destinations I walk to were not listed.  But you can add destinations and increase your neighborhood’s walk score with the click a button).

Before you start walking all over town, I recommend getting a good pair of shoes, preferably water-proof.  There are tons of places to buy walking shoes in Salem, but I particularly like Gallagher Fitness on Commercial Street in downtown Salem.  It’s a local business, and the staff is friendly and helpful.  They still measure feet at Gallagher’s, and an expert will help you find the right shoes and right fit for your walking style.  They offer lots of clinics and classes as well – for instance, in March. Gallagher’s is offering a Women’s Beginning Walking and Running Clinic for those who are female and need help getting motivated.

My biggest motivation block is the weather.  I whine a lot when it’s rainy and cold.  It seems so easy to just jump in the car and run to the grocery.  But, I remind myself, walking also saves gas, and the planet!  I sigh, button up my sweater, pull on my raincoat and gloves.  In my water-proof walking shoes, I am unstoppable.