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Senior Correspondent

"So," he said, "if you are concerned about getting more exercise, get a Fitbit or something, and make sure you do 10,000 steps a day."  He isn't just my oncologist, he is a friend, and here on The Schrag Wall like the rest of you. So I said, "OK."

It isn't as if I'm a stranger to exercise. I used to work out — a lot. Another Wall member introduced me to running when we both taught out in New Mexico. I never reached his level of dedication, but eventually I was running several miles a day, several times a week — at altitude, for crying out loud. After moving to North Carolina I got a locker over at the gym and maintained a fairly respectable workout schedule. When I was acting as Head of the Department my mantra was, "For now, I will live for the department, but I certainly will not die for it!" So I upped my workouts, adding Racquetball to jogging, and weight lifting, and subjected myself to a bunch of machines apparently left over from the inquisition. Even my incredibly fit sister would be proud.

But then, a few years later, I got sick — multiple myeloma. Now, after a couple of stem cell transplants things seem to be holding, knock on wood. However, during each transplant my docs over at The Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant Center in Chapel Hill — who, despite not being here on The Schrag Wall, I view as consummate professionals — said "Day 12 is Noodle Day!" I learned that that little bon mot meant that on the 12th day after your transplant you felt like a wet noodle. No energy, no desire to do anything but find a comfortable position and doze. They were right — both times. What they didn't mention was that to a significant extent the get-up and go that had got up and went, stayed gone.

It turned out that even if I had the energy, most of my old activities, like racquetball, running, etc., would be sidelined because, in my particular case the multiple myeloma had done some pretty significant damage to the bones in my back and hips, so those old routines simply hurt too much. But walking seems OK, so the Fitbit seems a good option to try. But, not quite as simple as it might appear at first blush. 

You see, I had never been into exercise for the sake of exercise itself. Secondary motives, stress reduction, the approval of others, etc., had always been what kept me in the gym. I never experienced the "runner's high" and only observed it when various runners would head for the bar after running for a couple quick martinis, or when they hung out in the parking lot smoking dope. I am reasonably sure that my oncologist was not advocating adding either of those activities to my daily regimen. So I started casting about for someone to serve as my "walkabout role model," some sort of hiking hero. Again, not that simple.

The first tenet of Distilled Harmony is to foster harmony; make the world a more gentle and joyful place. So my role model had to be someone at peace with their "walking self." But watch the people who are out for their daily run, or folks lifting weights at the gym, or people who are obviously "walking for exercise." These do not appear to be happy carefree souls. There is serious work to be done here, and they are doing it — seriously. Smiling is apparently not part of the program and even eye contact seems to be frowned upon unless it is to share a grimace or a groan. I may be wrong. Maybe it is just that the "workout frown" and the "bench press puff, grimace and groan" is mandatory — ritual evidence of membership in some fitness fraternity. Whatever the reason, I'm not going there. Distilled Harmony frowns on frowning.

But I still needed a saint of strolling, a wizard of walking. And that is when I recalled the fitness routine of one of my all time heroes — Albert Einstein. Nowhere in the biographies I have read about the man does it say: "And then Professor Einstein went to the gym for a session on the Stairmaster, and afterwards he did a series of crunches and several rotations of free weights." Apparently that never happened.

However, the professor did walk. Often and at great length. He was a common sight strolling the streets of Princeton, lost in thought — and occasionally lost in Princeton as well. Local citizens and constables would direct him back toward the university from whence he could plot a course home or to the office. Were we to find ourselves doing that nowadays we would immediately take ourselves off the closest healthcare facility with visions of senility or Alzheimer's disease dancing in our heads. Einstein, however, knew he was just thinking, strolling and thinking — and that was just fine.

I had found my model. The idea is to stroll around in your head as much as you stroll around the block, or track, or neighborhood. So now, when I begin a walk, I at least start with a question I want to work on — usually something right-brain creative in nature. But that obviously often gets bounced around; right-brain, left-brain, right-foot, left-foot, right, left, right, left and off I go — strolling and smiling, thinking, musing, and occasionally stopping to take notes before strolling off again.  Left right left right left right. Now, that's my idea of a Fitbit.

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