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Sunday, April 22, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Walk to, at work and give your heart a jump "Start!"

Seattle Times staff reporter

Get out of the cubicle


Wednesday, the American Heart Association wants office workers, employers and others to participate in "Start! Walking At Work Day."

Bring your sneakers and arrange walks at lunch or whatever times work best. The program is sponsored locally by Swedish Heart & Vascular Institute.

Americans are working longer, 164 more hours per year than 20 years ago, and more of our jobs are sedentary. Experts estimate that you can add two hours of life expectancy for each hour of regular exercise, even if you don't start until middle age.

KJR sports-talk host Dave Grosby sets out for work at 11:30 a.m. Between his old-school purple-and-gold University of Washington headband and a fluffy skinned-rug of a black shawl around his neck be seems to fuse coaching legend Don James with funky rocker Rick James. But it's not about style points.

Each workday, the affable Grosby walks three miles roundtrip from condo to microphone. It's part warm up and cool down, allowing him to clear his head and ease into and out of work mode.

Most important, it is a key part of his goal of maintaining a healthier heart. It has been three years since he underwent sextuple bypass heart surgery. Grosby, 46, was about 25 pounds heavier then. He smoked cigarettes and cigars. He drank too much. If a food wasn't fried, he probably wouldn't eat it. And exercise? About the closest he got to it was talking to and about athletes all day.

"I didn't have a bad diet," he says. "I had the worst imaginable. And everything else ... I'd get tired after a two-mile drive! I knew the hardest part of my recovery was going to be exercise."

Heart disease, including stroke, is the leading cause of the death in the United States. Cardiovascular disease and stroke claimed more than 16,000 lives in Washington during 2002. Two-thirds of Americans are considered overweight. That's partly because of our diets and stress, but also because we don't move as much as we should.

Doctors told Grosby to start walking and he "shuffled like a 90-year-old" at first. Eventually, he got the idea of walking the 5.5 miles from home to work. Now that he lives far closer, he supplements the walk with treadmill and floor work at his condo complex health club.

So far, Grosby has taken the necessary steps. He stopped smoking, cleaned up his diet and tapered his drinking. But walking was the key early and still. By making it his commute he's incorporated it into his day. He knew early on that he was more likely to stick to it that way.

"I've made tradeoffs," he says. "No red meat, so I can have a cocktail or two. I don't miss smoking one bit. And I enjoy walking. I'd like to lose 25 pounds. But food tastes too good!"

Grosby doesn't consider himself any kind of role model, not after how he let himself go all those years. But his public persona has spurred some to get medical checkups and get moving.

And that's really the key. Move before it becomes a matter of life and death. That's what Mikael Steinberg has in mind each workday morning when a city bus drops him off at University Village. He walks up the hills to his office on the west side of campus. He retraces his steps when the workday ends, and is over his 10,000-steps goal by the time he gets home. He does this rain or shine. In fact, he makes sure he gets his steps in every day.

Steinberg, 36, is paying close attention to his diet as a preventive measure. The men in his family share a history of heart disease. Since his father-in-law had a second heart attack at 46, Steinberg has made his health priority No. 1. He was 166 pounds when he began a year ago, and has maintained his weight at 140 over the past six months. Most of all, he feels better.

"This is something I knew I could and would do," he says, walking through the serenity of green lawns and ornate brick buildings. "I'm just not into the health-club atmosphere. I just decided to eat less and move more."

Both men were honored by the American Heart Association for their commitment to lifestyle change. In fact, the association has a program it calls "Start!" (www.americanheart.org/start) that encourages companies and workers to promote fitness and break down the obstacles that keep Americans from being physically active. The program focuses upon walking because that is the exercise with the lowest dropout rate.

A steady walk of 30 minutes a day helps, but some experts encourage walkers to throw in at least intervals of brisk walking, to the point where a conversation would be a bit labored. This challenges your heart and helps burn calories.

And just as you shouldn't overdo it, neither should you think walking alone is all you need to do. Strength training, stretching and a more challenging form of cardio are essential to getting in the best shape you can be.

Richard Seven: 206-464-2241 or rseven@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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