What does it mean to lengthen your stride?

It is a term that has been around for a while but its familiarity has aged. It doesn't, however, diminish the simple power of the thought.

If one were to popularize it too much it could become trite or sound like some tennis shoe commercial. Trivialization is always a risk, but perhaps with a growing sedentary society we need a phrase to get us up and moving.

When a group of younger teens was asked what would happen if one did lengthen his or her stride they said a person would go further.

Another said a person would walk longer. There are other interesting considerations. The suggestion is not an invitation to a race. It is not a shout to some sprinter. It is not a challenge of do it or else. There is not a chastisement but an admonishment to get going.

It is a promotion of improvement that is not limited by age or generation. I suspect most crawling infants are exempt, and for the walker-supported there could be a modification to "lengthen your shuffle."

For the elderly there was a research study that concluded the faster a person walks the more years they will live. The teens were right; increase stride and the life trip will be longer.

There is the physics of moving that says that with increased velocity and momentum it will be harder to be pushed off the path. It is more difficult to keep your balance on a slower-moving bike than a faster one. Talk to any 5-year-old learning how to ride a bike without training wheels. Further increasing the length stabilizes the gait. It prevents swaying to the left or to the right but permits a straight stride.

The saying doesn't mean to overstretch your step.

In fact if the stride is greater than natural it actually slows someone down. It is not an invitation to pull your groin muscle.

So often we take off on some task without preparation. We have these visions but fail to plan or count the cost. We try to do too much, too soon while not being too smart.

There is no prescribed length, speed or distance in the quest to increase our stride; it is directed to the individual talents, strengths and current position.

A taller person may actually slow the pace to match that of their walking companion. Someone could also keep the same stride but be just a touch more deliberate holding hands with the less able.

Another way to think about lengthening the stride is to think about an increased sense of urgency. Perhaps there is a need to hurry to rescue a friend or assist a stranger to comfort or rejoice with them.

The phrase suggests goals; why lengthen anything if there is no place to go? The advice is not spoken to lemmings as they race mindlessly off a cliff. Why rush to your doom?

It means to get started; to lengthen, one has to move out of a state of rest.

It forces us to overcome inertia and to change momentum. The amount of inertia is dependent upon the mass of an object. Emotionally or spiritually there are assortments of memories or behaviors in our lives that weigh us down and add to our inertia. Jettisoning our debilitating past, our doubts, our mistakes, our bad habits and our inappropriate fears lighten the load.

It becomes a pilgrimage when we are extended the offer to "come, follow me."

It means someone has already trod the path. It is a bid not to be alone. It encourages us to lengthen our stride to be with friends, family and God.

Lengthening our stride encourages action in all its meanings. It is a simple message of universal betterment. It reminds us all to get up and get going, and we don't need tennis shoes.

Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, practicing pediatrician for 30 years, and an adjunct professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah. He can be reached at [email protected]