A walk in the gardens. Those words usually conjure up a leisurely stroll through a beautiful landscape, with plenty of “stopping to smell the roses” along the way. Most of us would agree that there are few better ways to relax and recharge. But pick up the pace a bit as you’re out there enjoying the scenery and you might find yourself getting quite a nice cardio workout at the same time.
According to the American Heart Association, walking for as little as 30 minutes a day can reduce your risk of heart disease. And it’s something you can do anywhere, any time. Why not take the scenic route?
Many Huntington visitors, members, and volunteers have discovered the joys of walking for exercise in the Botanical Gardens. With 120 acres of well-maintained paths and easy-to-moderate terrain, the grounds are a pedestrian’s paradise. The main loop around the public areas is about 1.3 miles, starting from the Botanical Center and following the main road down past the Chinese, Japanese, and Australian gardens then up the hill through the Desert Garden and back. And if you add up all the other walkways and footpaths that meander through the gardens, you’ve got a total of about 6 miles of “track” to choose from for your workout, taking you through an inspiring landscape of roses, camellias, tropicals, and succulents; past water lilies, lotuses, and bamboo; under vine-covered trellises and alongside waterfalls. The scenery sure beats anything you can see from a treadmill at the gym.
Exercise is a family affair for Suzie Kong Lee, who walks in the gardens regularly with her husband, Eric Lee, and their 19-month-old son, Isaac. “It’s the primary fitness routine for our son,” she says. “He started out just taking one or two steps—he took his first steps by the Lily Ponds; the ducks and geese were great motivators—and now he’s averaging two miles a day.” The Lees use a pedometer to keep track of their progress (and Isaac’s).
“We used to live in Hong Kong, where walking was part of our daily lives,” explains Lee. “L.A. is such a commuter city. Walking at The Huntington has really helped us maintain our lifestyle and it gives us a mental retreat. We get to maintain some cardio and at the same time spend time together as a family.”
Ron Ramirez, a Huntington docent, logs plenty of miles while leading public tours through the gardens, but he often adds some extra laps on his own as part of his personal health regimen. “It helps me stay at my ideal weight, and my cholesterol is the best it’s ever been,” he says. “And you feel great when you’re done—invigorated and ready for the best day ever.” And when it comes to motivation, Ramirez finds that it’s hard to beat the beauty of the natural environment, an ever-changing panorama from one season to the next. “Everywhere you turn is like another picture that motivates you to keep walking to see what is next.”
Pushing a stroller adds some “upper-body work” to Rick Kidd’s fitness routine. He walks with his granddaughter Gemma at least once a week—usually ending their sessions with some play time in the Helen and Peter Bing Children’s Garden. “After pushing her around the gardens for an hour or so, I really work up a good sweat,” he says. “It’s a terrific workout.”
So on your next visit to The Huntington, consider leaving the strappy sandals and stilettos at home and lacing up your athletic shoes. Power-walk over to the Chinese Garden, or climb some stairs up to the Japanese teahouse. Burn off a few calories on the Desert Garden hill and get that heart-rate going.
But don’t worry if you can’t resist the urge to stop and smell the roses as you go: That’s a heart-healthy activity, too!
Lisa Blackburn is communications coordinator at The Huntington.