Walking into Spring, Part 3

In Walking into Spring, Part 2, I wrote about how, after getting bored with the treadmill, I decided to seek adventure outside the gates of my apartment complex. I wrote that one of the reasons walking is good for people with rheumatoid disease (arthritis) is that it strengthens not only the hip and leg muscles but the bones, as well. And I wrote about my sense of wonder as the world outside the gates moved by me at a walking pace, gifting me with precious time to see, hear, and really appreciate it.

And now, I want to write about the other good things walking did for me and can do for you.

Marching down memory lane

I walked three to five times a week as fall turned into winter. I tried to vary each walk a little, taking a different route to the same destination or simply walking different streets, sometimes on one side of the nearby six-lane avenue, sometimes on the other. I discovered neighborhoods I didn’t know existed, and one that reminded me so much of the lush, green, damp Pacific Northwest that I spent more than half the walk flooded with vivid memories of a place I’d loved long ago.

I lengthened my distances, too. After a while, I never walked less than two miles, and sometimes walked more than three. I quickened my pace so I could still get back home within an hour, which was (and still is) as long as I felt comfortable leaving Mom alone. I found a park with a shady, half-mile walking path, around its perimeter and took to walking around it at least three times before heading home.

To keep my pace brisk, I downloaded Army marching cadences to my phone and walked in step, once again sending myself down memory lane. While I was never in the Army, I did serve in the Air Force, and marching in cadence reminded me of those long-ago days when I was in basic training, 22 years old and just starting my journey into the big, wide world.

Appreciating victories: big & small

As time passed, I noticed other small but good things that walking was doing for me. I no longer puffed when I walked up the long hill on my way home. I didn’t get breathless carrying groceries in from the car. If I got down on the floor for anything, getting back up was much easier than it had been before. My legs were stronger, and so was my heart!

I decided to start taking my blood pressure a couple of times a day just to see if there was any improvement over time. To my surprise—and considerable delight—it was significantly, consistently lower than it had been before I started walking. Although I’d only lost about five pounds so far, my clothes were a bit looser through the behind, always a plus. And that extra energy that I’d been so astonished about stuck around. I started doing more with my free time, like baking banana bran muffins and trying new low-carb recipes that Mom and I could both enjoy eating for dinner.

One of the subtlest, yet most important things that happened as I walked is that, as time passed, I wanted to do it. What I’d once seen as a chore—something I disliked but had to endure—I now looked forward to. Before I left for my walk each morning, I enjoyed putting my ballcap on because I knew it would shade my sensitive eyes from the relentless California sun and, after I got moving briskly enough, stop the sweat from running down my nose and the sides of my face. I loved pulling my walking shoes on and tying them up. I even liked those first, tough ten minutes or so, when walking still made my feet yell bloody murder and my joints twinge sharply before everything warmed up. “There,” I’d think in triumph when, after a while, I realized that the only part of me that still hurt was my feet—but didn’t they always? Big deal.

And when I got home after each walk, I’d be filled with elation because, well, I’d done it again, hadn’t I? I’d walked two miles, or three-and-a-half, and I’d done it in an hour. Is this what they call a “runner’s high?” Had I achieved it simply by walking?

Maybe. I’d laughed at ground squirrels and watched scrub jays; I’d discussed the weather with a few stand-offish wild turkeys, and I’d petted several friendly small dogs while greeting their owners. I saw fifty different kinds of trees and noticed every slight breeze and temperature shift. I admired gardens and appreciated the shady stretches.

I’d burned calories. I’d strengthened my heart a little more, and my lungs, and my legs, and dammit, my growling old RD feet. My mind felt light, like it had been swept clean by the fresh, moving air and my own rushing, oxygenated bloodstream. I still had troubles and problems, like everyone, but I wasn’t stressed over them. In fact, with what seemed like a clearer mind, I could deal with them better.

Rising to the challenge

And my RD? It didn’t change much. There were days when walking simply hurt more than I could handle, so I’d stay home. Most of the time, the joints that bother me most are in my hands and feet. I don’t need my hands to walk, and I’d have to walk on my feet whether I hobble around the house or around the park. It’s more fun in the park, that’s for sure!

I’m not perfect. Being a consistent walker, even with all the good it does me, is a constant challenge. I got sidetracked and stopped walking over the holidays, picked it up again for a week or so, then stopped again for a while. Now I’m back at it and wondering why I stopped in the first place. I figure it’s just like dieting you can overindulge for a meal or a weekend, but you can always simply start again. No beating myself up, either. It hurts and it’s not worth it. I sass my whiny, hyper-critical inner voice into silence whenever I can.

This is big. I’ve discovered the joys of walking—for my heart, my lungs, my muscles, my joints, my RD, and my mind.

Hey! I’m walking for me!

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