Feb. 7, 2008 at 10:30 AM ET
By Dr. Billy Goldberg and Mark Leyner
Dr. Billy Goldberg:
Do you remember the 80’s Missing Persons song, “Walking in L.A.,” where they sing “nobody walks in L.A.?” Well, Leyner walks in L.A. and was hit by a car this week. After he realized that it wasn’t being driven by someone with a “dubious disease” who was trying to strike him down after our last blog entry, I tried to get him to discuss a topic for this blog. A discussion of the health benefits of walking might be particularly appropriate at this time. I am not a gym person and have always argued that walking is what has kept me fit. Yeah, on a rare occasion you can trip and fall or get hit by a distracted driver, but a simple stroll is much less risky than so many other activities. Well, Leyner had other thoughts…
I’d been in L.A. – Culver City to be exact – for about three days screening a movie I wrote along with Jeremy Pikser and John Cusack, called “War, Inc.” Ever since I arrived in L.A., I’d had this nagging sense of dread. Now, I know that I have an unusually acute and chronic presentiment of impending apocalypse, but over the past few days it had a sharp edge of specificity to it. So I’d been walking around Culver City with this foreboding that something was going to fall from the sky and kill me – figuratively, and literally. Unlike most people here, I prefer walking to driving. In fact, I LOVE walking. Walking seems to be unanimously frowned upon in L.A. People out here give you strange befuddled looks when you ingenuously suggest walking to an In-N-Out Burger joint that’s so close you can see it down the road. “No, no, no,” the concierge will admonish. “You don’t want to walk all the way over there. Let me get a car for you.” A car? The place is three blocks from here. Now I finally understand. Those traffic signals that tick down the seconds you have to walk across the street aren’t there for the benefit of the pedestrian. They are there to calibrate and heighten the driver’s video-game adrenaline rush as he perfectly times the moment he’ll stomp on the gas so as to brush the billowing shirt of the hapless fleeing pedestrian who’s attempting to cross.
Dr. Billy Goldberg:
I didn’t share Leyner’s sense of dread. I was at home with my family and 10-day-old newborn girl, watching the Super Bowl. I did, however, stuff myself with ribs and beer which got me to worrying about my own personal health. At least I avoided drinking any Coke or Pepsi since I just read in the British Medical Journal that the consumption of sugar sweetened soft drinks and fructose is strongly associated with an increased risk of gout in men. Having gout would get in the way of my walking. Despite Leyner’s perilous assessment of being a pedestrian, the health benefits of walking are very clear. There is incontrovertible evidence that regular physical activity contributes to the prevention of cardiovascular disease and that it is associated with a reduced risk of premature death. Walking has also been shown to help breathing, fight depression, improve immunity and also control weight. There are dangers associated with all physical activity, but that shouldn’t stop you. And don’t think that you can just walk from the parking lot to Denny’s and consider it exercise. The recommended amount of walking to get those health benefits is 10,000 steps a day. You don’t have to stroll down the street counting like an obsessive compulsive child. Wear a pedometer or assume it’s equal to about five miles. It sounds like quite a hike but it adds up over the course of a day. I am lucky on two fronts. I live in New York, the region of the country with the highest walking rates. I also work in the ER and studies have been done with ER doctors wearing pedometers and we can sometimes walk 3 to 4 miles in an 8-hour shift.
Whatever! I was hit by a car. Struck down, suddenly and violently, the impact throwing me about 10 feet. It was astoundingly abrupt and yet had that strange quality of suspended time familiar to anyone who’s ever been in an accident. I immediately thought of my daughter Gaby, hoping that nothing had happened to me that would prevent me from joyfully spending all the precious moments of our lives together. I stood up, stunned. My bag and my laptop case and my cell phone and car keys were scattered on the street. The driver rushed out of her big bright yellow car, her face obscured by huge bright yellow sunglasses. One of my knees buckled, bending too far in a direction it obviously shouldn’t have been bending. The other knee was bleeding and bruised, as was my elbow. But my head hadn’t hit the ground. All told, I’m extremely lucky. EMS arrived, examined me and determined that I was essentially in one piece.
Some guy who’d witnessed the accident came over to me later and said that only in California is it actually safer to be inside a hurtling automobile than simply strolling around. “I hear that, dude,” I said, giving the guy a fist-bump and limping off.