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05/03/10 2:30 PM ET

Walking has underappreciated benefits

Baseball's version has much in common with regular exercise

BOSTON -- Before Carlton Fisk stepped up to the plate to lead off the bottom of the 12th inning in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, what do you think manager Darrell Johnson said to him? Maybe it was something like, "Get it going, Pudge." Maybe he said nothing at all. But I'm pretty sure he didn't say, "You know, Carlton, a walk is as good as a hit."

When it comes to drama, nothing in Red Sox history will ever match the hit that followed. A shot that Fisk, and every Red Sox fan alive at the time, waved and willed fair as it traveled down the left-field line and off the pole above the Green Monster. But if Pat Darcy hadn't given him a pitch to hit, would Fisk have settled for a walk? Absolutely.

The fact is drawing a walk is an often underappreciated skill. Plate discipline and selective swings are prized attributes that can separate prospects from future pros. Scouts, general managers and rotisserie baseball fans alike crunch the numbers to try to project future benefits to their clubs.

"Walking is incredibly valuable." said Dr. Loryn Feinberg, director of the Women's Cardiovascular Center at the CardioVascular Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. "It has tremendous benefits."

OK, you might have guessed that she isn't talking about bases on balls. And I'm pretty sure that she doesn't have a rotisserie team. But she does know a thing or two about the upside of taking walks, some of which are obvious.

"Where should I start? We know from large trials that regular walking can lower blood pressure, decrease the chances of heart disease and heart attacks, help you process sugars more efficiently and improve your cholesterol parameters. It increases HDL, which is the cardio-protective or 'good' cholesterol, and it reduces the amount of LDL -- the 'bad' cholesterol that can lead to the build up of arterial plaque. Not to mention it's easy, inexpensive and can be done in almost any setting," she said.

Last season, the Red Sox were a pretty good walking club. Boston batters drew 659 bases on balls. That's a lot of potential runs. And when you measure all those steps, it's 11.24 miles traveled from home plate to first base. Doing it as a team, it adds up.

"Being part of a walking group or walking team either in your workplace or your neighborhood is a great idea. Most folks nowadays know about the benefits of regular exercise. What they often struggle with is finding the time and the motivation to get out and do something," Feinberg said. "When you're part of a team, not only are you more likely to commit to regular walking, you're much more likely to enjoy it."

You can start putting together a walking club of your own by asking your office mates to join you on a lunch break. If you would like to track your mileage and progress, you can find plenty of helpful, free information at BID's Walking Club site. Feinberg was also quick to point out that there are ways of sneaking in a few extra steps each day without having to carve out a large block of time.

"Some I'm sure you've heard before, like taking the stairs instead of an elevator. Or instead of spending five minutes driving around the parking lot at mall or the supermarket looking for a space close to the door, you might take a spot farther away and walk," Feinberg suggested. "This one might sound silly to some, but you can have walking meetings at work. Maybe not with a half a dozen people, but two people walking down the hallway instead of sitting in an office is a great start."

Feinberg also emphasized that some exercise, even a little, is better than none. And setting a goal, such as walking three times a week at lunch usually is more effective than telling yourself that you are going to walk "more often." Many walkers find that as they begin to feel better and get in shape, they start to exercise more and the health benefits increase.

Perhaps you don't subscribe to the theory that a walk in baseball is as good as a hit, but there's no dispute that a walk to the ballpark is better than sitting.

C'mon, join the club.

Gary Gillis is a contributor to MLB.com. The BID Injury Report is a regular column on redsox.com. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is the official hospital of the Boston Red Sox. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.