Speaker had great message on adding physical activity

I was privileged to attend a fitness lecture on March 3 sponsored by Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Minnesota at the Rochester Athletic Club entitled, "Building Active Lives into Our Communities." 

The presenter was Mark Fenton, who is a vocal pedestrian advocate and nationally recognized authority on public health issues and the need for community, environmental and public-policy initiatives to encourage more walking and bicycling. 

That was a mouthful. 

One would think that his thoughts would be towards the abolition of all motor-driven vehicles.  Contrary to that, he spoke of incorporating mass transit, vehicles, pedestrian, and bicycle traffic to make them all compatible.  That was also only a small portion of this message.

I am attempting to summarize his message from one of the best orations I have personally ever heard in my life.  His delivery was enthusiastic, passionate, educational, entertaining, and inspirational.   My electronic thesaurus is close to a meltdown using adjectives to describe the lecture.  Can you tell I really, really enjoyed it? 


A brief background on Mark: he was born in upstate New York and attended MIT in Cambridge, Mass., where he earned a bachelor and masters degrees.  He is also a former international race walker which led into his slide show of his latest accomplishment.  He was invited to accompany a buddy on a "fast packing" trip covering the John Muir trail which is 211 miles long from the Yosemite Valley to Mt. Whitney, in California. 

Fast packing is backpacking accelerated.  The objective is to walk/hike as fast as possible with minimal gear.  The goal was to cover the 211 miles in seven days or 31 miles per day. 

During the trek he developed seven principles for success when adding physical activity to your sedentary life.  The slides he used with each principle were simply breathtaking.  The views in the high Sierras of California were indescribable.

Make it matter to you.  When one sets a goal(s), it has to be based on intrinsic motivation.  It has to be important to the individual.  Why set the goal?  What is the core emotion that fuels the want/need to achieve that goal(s)?  Don’t do it for others, do it for you.  The passion will come from within the individual and nowhere else.   Mark had to prepare physically for this adventure.  He prepared without disrupting his family life.  He trained early in the morning or late at night.  This John Muir Trail challenge was important to him and he wanted to 1) survive the ordeal and 2) finish it in the seven days.  The preparation also proved to him that he could still get back into condition for an undertaking of this magnitude.

Measure and record your progress.  As a walking advocate, he stressed begin with the easiest physical activity:  walking.  He advises when starting out, invest in a pedometer to count your steps per day as well as a solid pair of walking shoes.  He stressed the importance of walking shoes, not to be confused with running, basketball, or other athletic shoes.  He also advised to not be concerned with reaching 10,000 steps per day which is often the gold standard for walking.  Start where you are. Count and record your steps daily.  At the end of the first week divide the total by the days walked to determine your average daily steps.  Try to increase this total by 15 to 20 percent each week. 

Keep it simple.  By keeping your action plan simple, it reduces the chance of creating barriers.

Establish a routine.  Put it in your daily/weekly schedule and be consistent.

Everybody needs somebody.  Have a support system.  Partner with a friend, co-worker, or family member.  Hold each other accountable to get your steps in each day.  Agree to meet and go for group walks.  Many of us are social and enjoy good company and discussion.


The environment matters.  The more conducive your surroundings are to walking the better chance you will stick with it.  Choose scenic routes down by a river or get back to nature by hiking in Chester Woods or White Water State Park.  Dress for the weather and use safe, pedestrian friendly routes.  His slides of the John Muir Trail have inspired me to get my family out hiking trails more often.  

What do you think about when you have plenty of time to think? Walking can also leave you alone with yourself to reflect on those things or people close to you.  It’s a time to relax and enjoy the moment.  Park your issues at the start and pick them up at the end.  One can use this time as a mini vacation and to recharge. 

I encourage you to use your search engine to find related material on Mark Fenton.  He also hosts a show on PBS.  He has other great tips on walking programs.  With the weather warming and the days getting longer, there is no better time to start walking than right now.  Get out there because your legs were made for walking.   

Wes Emmert is fitness director at the Rochester Athletic Club.

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