Walking into Spring, Part 2

Last time, I wrote about how I’d started walking for exercise again, spurred on by my 62nd birthday, more body weight than I wanted to face, and worried about my future health. I wrote about how surprised I was at how good I felt after walking the treadmill several times, both physically and mentally. And then, the treadmill started boring me. Uh-oh.

Yep, one day I was walking along, going nowhere, and thinking I was getting mighty tired of the view from the window, which was the same day after day and always would be. By this time, I was walking to music, since I couldn’t seem to focus my attention on the podcasts very well. It was getting harder to motivate myself to go to the gym, mainly because it was so dull. And I knew what that meant: one day, I’d just stop going. I’d ignore my better nature.

"Where is your sense of adventure?"

Maybe, I thought, I should try walking outside. After all, it’s a relatively quiet neighborhood, with residential streets all around. It’s not like you’d be hiking through a dark, scary forest: there are sidewalks, for goodness sakes, and people, and dogs and other walkers everywhere. You see them from the car all the time.

My whiny, spineless inner voice piped up. “But it’ll be too cold/windy/hot/muggy/rainy out there!” Once again, I sassed it back.

“So what? If it’s too cold/windy, wear a jacket!” I told it. “And if it’s really too hot, muggy, or rainy, you can always come back to the treadmill. These are not good excuses, you. Not good at all.”

“I’m scared,”  the voice whined in my head.

I had to think about that one a little bit. I’ve spent most of my time at home for the last several years, caring for my mother. We live in a busy suburban area. There’s not much crime here, but bad things can happen anywhere. Walking along quiet neighborhood streets at mid-morning should be safe enough, but I’d gotten home-bound and wary. “Where is your sense of adventure?” I asked my inner self. “There was a time—not that long ago, either—when nothing could scare you. You’re the grrl that skied the Alps with RD, backpacked the Sierras, and covered wildland fires for the paper! Now you’re afraid to take a walk alone?” I snorted at myself. “Tomorrow,” I said. Tomorrow, you’re walking outside the gates. The world is waiting.”

I need to interject here that there are a lot of good ways to move your body, but for me, it’s walking, It’s one of the gentlest forms of exercise for someone with rheumatoid disease. And it is exercise. Walking is weight-bearing exercise, which is especially good as it stimulates the bones to become stronger without jarring the joints like running can. Lots of people who have RD, including me, also have osteoporosis, so anything we can do to make our bones stronger is worthwhile.

Walking also strengthens the muscles in the hips, thighs, and calves. This is good because these are the muscles that support the joints that allow us to walk; the stronger they are, the better off we are. There are other good reasons to walk, but I’ll get to them later.

Stepping outside the gates

The next morning, instead of going to the gym, I walked to the apartment complex’s gates, stepped outside of them, and onto the sidewalk. After starting the phone app that would count my steps and record my time and distance walked, I looked around and decided I’d head south. Because … why not?

I was excited and a little apprehensive. That voice again: “What if Mom needs you or falls and gets hurt and you’re too far away?” I started walking and answered myself. “If she does, I’ll just walk back as fast as I can. I need to do this. It’s good for me. And if she’s hurt, I do have a phone with me. I can call 911. She’ll have help in no time.”

That was it. I walked. That first day was kind of a wonder. It’s been so long since I just wandered around on foot! I rediscovered that I liked choosing at random where I’d go. I liked seeing the streets and neighborhoods slowly, from ground level, instead of while speeding along in car. There were trees and flowers, and scents, and noises, and birds, and varying architecture, and temperature changes and breezes and, and, and.

Rediscovering old memories & creating new ones

Breathing the fresh air felt good in my lungs. Walking up a long slope got me puffing and remembering how, as a child, I’d frequently ridden my bike up a huge hill and, after finally getting too tired, having to get off the bike and push it up the rest of the way, gasping. Then I’d get back on and speed away… Walking, I discovered, frees the mind. I wasn’t worrying about anything. I let whatever filled my eyes and ears fill my mind from corner to corner. I conjured memories.

I walked a mile that first day Outside the Gates. I came home tired and sweaty and happy. I’d walked up and down gentle hills, tripped over a raised sidewalk slab without falling, and stopped to—literally—smell some roses. The next day, I encountered a small flock of nearly-tame wild turkeys looking for bugs in the grass in someone’s yard, and the day after that, a Dachshund and a French bulldog and their owners. I was hooked. No more treadmill for this girl. From that point on, walking wasn’t just because I thought I should exercise. It was because I could be curious. It was wonderment. And maybe, it could be a little bit of adventure?

And yes, I was still walking to improve my health. Stay tuned for Walking into Spring, Part 3.

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