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This past summer, my wife and I were running late to the Arts for ACT fundraiser at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa in Estero. As we rushed inside from the valet parking, a vaguely familiar couple in tuxedo and evening gown stopped us and said, "You’re the Walkers."

"No," we said as we continued our dash toward the ballroom. "No! No!" they insisted, "You’re Annie’s parents!" Again we shook our heads and continued to walk away before we realized—we are Annie’s parents. We are not schizophrenic; our last name is Cacioppo and our children’s names are Matthew and Julia. What we realized is this couple is among the many people we meet on our morning walks (thus "the Walkers"), and our companion on these walks is our golden retriever named Annie.

A year and a half ago, shortly after my 49th birthday, I started to think that I wanted to be on this earth for my 89th birthday. Not only that, I wanted to be lucid and physically fit. So my wife, Carrie, and I decided that we would start walking each morning to get the blood moving and to keep our weight down. Thus a tradition was started with our slightly rotund seven-year-old golden retriever in tow. We charted a three-mile trek from our home along the royal palm-lined McGregor Boulevard to a picturesque section along the Caloosahatchee River and back again to our house. Fifty minutes was all it required before we showered, dressed and started our respective days.

As a youngster, exercise was just a natural part of my life. Baseball and softball during summers, football each fall, basketball in the winter until it was baseball season and the cycle started again. It was skiing, sailing and biking for my wife, which may tell you something about our backgrounds, but that’s another story. As I grew into my 20s, I regularly played touch football on weekends and the occasional basketball game. But, as I reached my 30s, exercise took a second fiddle to my life of raising children and building a career. A few periods of racquetball and tennis surfaced, but time (and laziness, I suppose) did not always allow for consistency. So often exercise required traveling to a gym, warming up and stretching, then showering and re-dressing before continuing with one’s day. Two-and-a-half hours was no longer time I had in my schedule.

Walking, however, required no longtime commitment, no prep or special equipment. Doctors say walking is as good for you as running. Walking prevents weight gain, lowers "bad" cholesterol and reduces the risk of developing high blood pressure and heart disease. Walking also got my mind thinking more clearly. I’ve always noticed that I performed better at work after I’ve exercised. I’m also more creative and relaxed, and I sleep better.

Best of all is how it improved an already good relationship with my wife. It’s amazing how easy it is not to have conversation with the most important person in your life. Often work, preparing meals and catering to our children’s needs dominated our day. These 50-minute walks, however, allowed my wife and me the chance to talk, really talk, to each other every morning. We discuss important things like family and careers. We also would speak about seemingly unimportant things, like certain flowers and trees we liked on our walks or about a hawk sitting high on top of a ponderosa pine. It opened us to important discoveries like what a masterful squirrel-chaser Annie is. We also connected to fellow walkers, joggers and bikers we now see daily in our neighborhood, and savor the car honks and waves we get from friends passing in cars along the boulevard.

So much has been gained over the last year and a half. My wife and I have lost a few pounds and gained a greater closeness. Annie lost 10 percent of her body weight and is no longer greeted by strangers as, "You’re a big girl, aren’t you?" Maybe Carrie and I should chase squirrels too.

So if you are ever driving on McGregor Boulevard in Fort Myers between 7:20 and 8:10 in the morning and see a happy-looking couple with a svelte golden retriever, that would be us—The Walkers, with the most obedient of our three children, Annie. My advice to one and all: Take a walk with someone you care about, even if it’s yourself. It’s amazing what it will do for you, both inside and out.

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