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Walk the walk. Eat the gelato.
September 24, 2010. As I was finishing a beautiful 7-mile hike in Acadia National Park last month, I thought, wow, it would be great to have this place in my neighborhood and do it every week. Three hours on a beautiful trail, a thousand calories gone before you know it. Then I realized there is a version of this right here. Central Park.

You have your version of this, too. There are parks and trails everywhere. And roads. And sidewalks. With or without the dog, the walk doesn’t have to end after a half hour or an hour. Just keep going.

Here’s a great all-morning walk that burned more calories than I ate before, during and after it. Click to see the big, detailed Google trail map I made for you. Maybe it’ll inspire you to map your own Walk. Eat locally, walk locally. In this case, 600 calories in, 1,500 calories gone in 4 hours and 8 miles.

What’s for breakfast?
I started my day at home, so it was my homemade granola with milk and a pear from my CSA farm share. About $1 and 275 calories.

Love your park
You start at Columbus Circle, the southwest corner of the Park. North Past the ballfields, then east across the 15-acre Sheep Meadow. This really was a sheep meadow until 1934.

Now north again on The Mall, Central Park’s only formal promenade. It’s lined with scores of huge, old American Elms. The saplings were planted during the 1860s; now they form a leafy canopy above The Mall from April until Thanksgiving.

Which brings us to Bethesda Fountain, the park’s centerpiece. “The Lake” is just beyond; you can rent a rowboat by the hour for an upper body workout. Or you can take the Bow Bridge across The Lake at its narrowest point. It’s the most beautiful and graceful of all the bridges in the Park; even if you’ve never been here, you’ll recognize it from dozens of movies and TV shows. The bridgework is the original cast iron from about 1870; the arched wooden deck was restored about 30 years ago.

Next: up into the hills of The Ramble. 37 acres of deep woods in the center of Central Park, in the middle of New York City. The Park’s other 800 acres were radically transformed in the 1860s by the wonderful design of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. They rearranged about 5 million cubic yards of soil and stone and planted nearly a million trees. Hundreds of new species of deciduous and evergreen trees.

Now back down to The Lake, which they also created. Across the stream, past the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater (really) and up the steep, winding path though the Shakespeare Garden. Flowers, grasses and dozens of herbs and spices referred to in the plays of William Shakespeare, complete with small plaques quoting passages like, yes, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”.

Up some imposing stone staircases to Belvedere Castle, the highest point in Central Park. Back in the late 1800s, its flagpole was the highest point for miles around. During winter, a large red ball was hoisted to the top of the pole whenever Belvedere Lake was frozen and safe for ice skating.

Across the Great Lawn, around the west side of the Reservoir and north to the edge of The Cliff to see the The Blockhouse, an 1814 fortification built to defend against the British. East to the Conservatory Garden, the Park’s formal garden. Its flower beds are elaborately replanted every month or so to feature the season’s best and most colorful.

Continue south along the east side of the Reservoir to the back side of the vast Metropolitan Museum of Art. So vast you can take a 3-mile hike inside. Behind the museum, check out Cleopatra’s Needle, the 3500-year-old, hieroglyphic-inscribed obelisk given to the city by Egypt in 1881.

Further south, past the Conservatory Water and the remote-controlled toy sailboats for rent. Through the East Lawn, past the Central Park Zoo (check to see if the seals are being fed) and around The Pond at the southeastern corner of the Park. And finally, back across to the west and Columbus Circle.

Personally, I’d head straight across 59th Street and half a block down Broadway to Grom, which just might be the city’s best gelato. I’d order a scoop of the Cioccolato Extranoir and a scoop of the Nocciola because I can’t help myself in this place. Whatever your favorite flavor, this’ll be a spectacular version of it. 215 calories for a small (1/2-cup) gelato; just 50 for a small sorbetto. If you feel the 8 miles wasn’t enough to justify two scoops of one of the world’s best ice creams, get one of the chocolate and one of the raspberry sorbet.

Option: go home and make a pizza. Your half, depending on toppings: 300 – 350 calories, less than $2. Rather leave it to the pros? Take the “N” or “R” subway at 57th Street and 7th Avenue to Union Square/14th Street. From there, it’s a 5-minute walk to Motorino for profoundly great pizza. They’re all great; $9 – 17 per pie.

So this is a pretty great day. The Walk is free. Food can be pretty cheap. And the total sensory experience in your park should put your mind in slow motion and full appreciation of beauty.

If you’re not doing The Walk (but wish you were), I’ll bet you can take this as a template to map your own local adventure walk. If 8 miles doesn’t sound challenging enough, next week I’ll show you where to add another 6 when you’re in New York. Make a whole day of it, starting or finishing at the southern tip of Manhattan. Great eating suggestions all along the way.

Coming soon to Way of the Day: The Walks That AteCharleston, Chicago, Telluride, Portland, Santa Fe and way more.

Cost-Benefit Analysis
A walk like this gives you the immediate benefit of a great day. Making exercise a habit gives you the long-term benefit of great health. Cost: free walking, cheap eating.

Every Thing Is Everything
“… modest levels of physical exercise during middle age increased the probability of successful aging beyond 70 years … [reducing] osteoarthritis, falls and hip fracture, cardiovascular disease, respiratory diseases, cancer, obesity, diabetes…” Archives of Internal Medicine, JAMA, January 25, 2010

It’s Always Something
If you work out after breakfast to manage your weight, granola may help you burn fat. A study published in The Journal of Nutrition showed that exercise after a high-fiber, low glycemic index breakfast (granola, yogurt, fruit) burned twice as much fat per hour as exercise following a high glycemic breakfast (cornflakes, milk, white bread, jam).

Low glycemic index foods include whole grains; some nuts, oils and cheeses; milk; most fruits and vegetables; low-carb foods like fish, meat, and eggs. High glycemic index foods include white bread, Rice Krispies and other refined and processed grains; and, all (non-diet) sodas, which contain the dreaded high fructose corn syrup).

Cost Comparison
Exercise is Better. Cheaper.
Lifestyle changes [exercise] and treatment with [the drug] metformin both reduced the incidence of diabetes in persons at high risk. The lifestyle intervention was more effective …” Reduction in the Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes with Lifestyle Intervention, New England Journal of Medicine, 2002.

“… the cost per QALY (quality-adjusted life-years) was approximately $1100 for the lifestyle intervention [exercise]; and $31,300 for the metformin …” Annal of Internal Medicine, 2005.
You decide: a lifetime of free, beautiful walks – or $30,000 a year for drugs with side effects.

Find your park
In the U.S. alone, there are thousands of local, State and National parks. Use and support them.

Or support The Trust for Public Land. TPL conserves land for human enjoyment and wellbeing, from inner city to wilderness. TPL works in cities and suburbs across America to ensure that everyone — in particular, every child — enjoys close-to-home access to a park, playground, or natural area. You can probably find an example of their great work near you.

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