There she was, stuck in her house again. The TV was on but there was nothing to watch. The pandemic was raging, the country was locked down so there was nowhere to go and nothing to do. Becky Lonergan could not take it anymore. It was time to get creative.
She opened the front door and took a step outside. She felt like an astronaut opening her space capsule and setting foot on another planet. She took a step. Then another. The sun warmed her face. A soft breeze touched her skin. “I’d almost forgotten what that felt like,” she said.
At first, the farthest thing from her mind was exercise. “I just wanted to get out there, see other people, experience all the beauty in the neighborhood.” She started walking 4,000 steps a day but that quickly became too easy. She needed a challenge, a goal, and a change of scenery.
“Most people who walk are happy to pick a route and stick to it,” she said. “But not only did I expand out of my neighborhood, I wanted to see if I could walk in front of every single house in The Villages. That just opened it up from an activity to more of a mission.”
The Villages, located near the center of Florida is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country. It has 65,000 homes, 32 square miles (about the area of Manhattan), over 100 miles of golf cart trails and an estimated population of 200,000, and it is still growing. At 10,000 steps a day, covering the entire area would not be easy, or quick.
Her husband pulled up a map and together they charted each day’s walk. The more areas Becky covered, the more she wanted to see.
“I saw things that were just incredible,” she said. “I saw funny street signs, met lots of dogs being walked, saw the most interesting yard decorations, and chatted with the most interesting people. And each day I kept saying to myself, ‘I’m not going to be done with this. I’m going to keep going.’”
By April of 2021 Lonergan had walked by every house in the northern half of The Villages. Now she’s begun walking the southern half. Lonergan says when you become dedicated to a challenge, you’ll be surprised by how driven you can be to complete it. In fact, she has quite a streak going. “I haven’t missed a single day in 667 days,” she said. “And that’s hard to believe, even for me, because I wasn’t really sure when I started this that I could take it to this point. But I sure did.”
She has come to believe that walking can be great activity for most people. Ten thousand steps a day sounds like a lot, but she says it doesn’t tire you out for the rest of the day and doesn’t take as long as you might think. “Really, about an hour and a half,” she said. “That’s it. An hour and a half invested each day in your health, your wellbeing, your mindfulness. Doesn’t that sound worth it?”
Family medicine physician Dr Juan Yordan of Physician Partners knows it is. He’s seen the evidence behind the old saying ‘a body in motion stays in motion.’ “Everybody after a certain age will have some kind of arthritis in some kind of joint, so keeping mobility, keeping walking, that will keep that joint from getting stiff and getting worse,” Yordan said. Other benefits include increased cardiovascular and pulmonary function, lower cholesterol, better digestion as well as an improved mental state.
If you take a walk, make it a brisk one! A new study of genetic data of more than 400,000 adults has revealed a clear link between walking pace and slow aging through a genetic marker of biological age. A team of researchers based at Leicester in the UK have confirmed a causal link between walking pace and leucocyte telomere length (LTL) — an indicator of biological age. The researchers estimate that a lifetime of brisk walking could slow aging and lead to the equivalent of 16 years younger biological age by midlife.
Dr. Yordan says the key is to start small.
“Don’t think that if you have not done any kind of walking or exercise, you’re going to run a 5k marathon the next day. It’s just little steps. Just start with 10 minutes a walk or five minutes a walk, and then start adding to that. I’m pretty sure you’re going to notice that the same 10 minutes that you did two weeks ago, now you can do it, and you say, ‘You know what? I could keep on going maybe five minutes more.’ And then you start adding to that. The benefits that it takes through your entire body, it’s incredible. That increase in metabolism and cardiovascular function is great.”
As for what’s next for Lonergan, she says she will continue her daily walks into the foreseeable future because she has never felt better. “I’m healthier both physically and mentally,” she said. “And I’m so grateful for my husband, my friends, my health and for every day that I get to live in this wonderful community.”