I take a walk every day. Over time, when others have become aware that I do this, they have often said they wish they could do the same thing.

My answer is always the same: “Once you start, you won’t be able to stop. It becomes really easy.”

The power of habit is amazing. I’ve never been an athlete of any sort. I never craved physical exertion, like some people do. I’ve enjoyed swimming and ice skating since I was a child, but as pleasurable ways to pass the time. Kayaking, Nordic skiing and hiking (hills, not mountains) were experienced in a similarly desultory manner.

But as late middle age approached, I felt I should be exercising daily, in a deliberate way. So I started walking for half an hour, which at my speed was about 2 miles. On the weekends, I’d walk with my husband, Paul. On the weekdays, I’d walk on my lunch break or after dinner. When the weather was bad, we’d walk at the YMCA.

I didn’t always feel like walking, but I found, after a couple of months, that when the clock told me it was time, I got up almost automatically and headed out the door. I made sure I’d planned for alternative arrangements if I was going to be diverted from my usual schedule. Once the walking habit was formed, I didn’t have to think about whether or not I was going.

I was a walking robot.

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Habit has also helped me with my writing. Julia Cameron, in her book, “The Artists’ Way,” encourages the practice of “morning pages.” Get up, maybe make a cup of coffee and then write, without stopping or editing, about three pages. Let it flow. The idea is to stimulate creativity, and get out your thoughts so later in the day you can focus on more directed work.

Writing every day is a good thing for writers to do. It exercises those mental muscles.

Life intervened, and I was too busy in the early morning to write. Last year, I decided I wanted to reestablish the practice. I was getting up at 4 a.m. and writing for half an hour. I formed the habit, but then I had surgery. Complications put me into critical care for a week. Although I did keep up my writing at the hospital, all I was capable of were short notations in a small notebook. Morning pages weren’t an option during my monthlong recovery, either.

I didn’t push myself to get back to it because soon I was undergoing two total knee replacements, one in March and one in August. But after the second one, I just naturally started writing morning pages again. I had to do exercises for my knee, then sit and apply ice for half an hour. It was the perfect time for scribbling.

I was able to do this because I’d retired from my day job as a school librarian. I’d been an educator for 32 years, and thought about habit and consistency a lot during that time. It is so important for children to develop healthy routines.

There’s a lot of talk these days about “executive functioning” abilities, and how so many students need to have them strengthened. In very simplistic terms, they need direct instruction in how to organize their binders.

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So many children have chaotic lives, without any kind of structure or routine. It may sound hopelessly “1955″ to envision students who sit at a table to eat supper, and then go to their own desk to complete their homework. The meal, the dining table and the desk are not givens, as they were in my childhood home.

But imagine how successful these youngsters could be if they had more structure in their lives. Luckily, good habits can be taught and learned.

I’m here to say if I can do it, anyone can. I haven’t turned myself into an Olympic athlete. I’m still just walking for 30 minutes. But I continue to reap the benefits.

After my first knee surgery (on my right knee), I tried to resume my walks as soon as possible, starting with 10-minute stints. But there was a problem. My left knee was arthritic, too. Now it was bearing most of my weight. My walks became ever more painful. I continued — my habit pushing me — but it was a challenge.

The left knee fix was a totally different story. I started very short walks less than two weeks after surgery. Soon I was up to 15 minutes every morning, then 20. I added a second 20-minute jaunt in the afternoon. By the time I began outpatient physical therapy in week three, I was almost walking normally. My therapist was amazed. He said the people who recover the quickest from knee replacement are those who walk.

Now, I’m almost back to my presurgery speed.

I had been walking with Nordic poles for support, but I was proud to ditch them. Then Paul sent me an article that explained how healthy it is to walk with poles.

I went back to using them and guess what happened? I can’t leave home without them. It’s a habit.

Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected]


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