Image via WikipediaOne day when I was about 12 years old, I was about to be sent home from school because I had come down with the flu. The nurse at the school tried to call my mother at home, but there was no answer.
I knew where she was. She was out walking. I didn't realize at the time that the reason my mother had taken up walking was because of her cancer diagnosis; she was out almost every day walking anywhere from two to four miles. It was the only time I ever saw her wear pants and running shoes. When I was five years old, my Dad's car kicked the bucket, and since we couldn't afford another one, we went without a car for about five years. My Dad was a bus driver, so we either walked or took the bus anywhere and everywhere for those years. The three of us walked to the neighbourhood grocery story every Friday evening and packed home the week's groceries. It was just our routine. As a kid, Dad loved walking or hiking everywhere either alone or with a friend, and often walked up the famous Grouse Grind on Grouse Mountain in Vancouver, long before it became cool to do that! As he got older, he never stopped walking, and would often choose to walk rather than take the car.
Many years later I was out on my usual walk when I suddenly remembered my mother's walks, and realized that we had both chosen the same activity as a health benefit. At first, walking was something I did occasionally, especially when I was in Richmond visiting my family. The boardwalk by the Fraser River in Steveston is a lovely walk, but my little Fernwood neighbourhood here in Victoria is also a pleasant route. These days, I try to walk four times a week and as the weather improves sometimes I walk pretty much every day. In the last few months I've focused on it even more, especially after reading a few stories on the benefits of walking for at least half-an-hour at a time. It keeps your weight in check, of course, but I've always thought of it as the most obvious form of exercise a human being can choose. We were made to walk.
My sister runs. I hate running. It always feels like my innards are being pounded into mush, never mind the crunching sound my knees and hips make when I have to dash across a street to avoid a car, for instance. I gloated to my sister once when I found out that at a certain distance, running and walking burn the same amount of calories. Take THAT! Yeah! She just looked at me with her little smile, knowing full well that she's in better shape than I am, regardless of any of my proclamations. Good thing she's OLDER so I can at least rub that in. I win :-)
A couple of months ago I found an About.com article all about walking. I found out that your weight x distance = the energy consumed by walking, so I immediately opened Google Earth and used the distance tool to calculate how far my usual walks were taking me and how many calories I was burning. Hmmmm. Okay, so not that great. I fiddled around a bit and adjusted a few blocks this way and that way and came to a new route that would burn more calories. The other caloric element that wasn't taken into consideration was the fact that I live on a hill. No matter which way I go, I eventually have to go uphill to get home again. That boosts the caloric numbers too, so I decided to find the street with the steepest grade, just to make it even better. The first time I attempted that street, I was wheezing by the time I had only gotten a quarter of the way up. Holy crap. Half way up and my legs were aching and my heart pounding out of my chest. When I reached the top, outside of being completely winded, I had a hot flash. Sheesh. But I did it. And I've incorporated that street into most of my daily walks since. It's gotten somewhat easier, but it still kills me.
Aside from gardening and golfing, walking is what keeps me sane and centred. There is the physical benefit, to be sure, but the emotional and mental benefits are just as important to me, if not more so. Some days when it's wet and cold out there, it's hard to get motivated, but once I am out the door, I immediately feel better. Even though I go at a pretty good clip, I pay attention to trees and birds and gardens and to the people I often see on a regular basis. I always say hello or good morning and serve up my best smile. By the time I get home, I'm stress-free and at peace with the world.
When my cat became ill and started to lose his kidney function a few months back, I found a vet that was within walking distance so I could incorporate the visits to pick up his specialized food and medication. And these days, instead of hopping in the car to go to the bank or to the grocery store, I stick on a backpack and walk it instead. Fortunately we have a mall fairly close to us that has pretty much everything we need. With some encouragement, I occasionally convince my husband to walk with me there and back, but for the most part I walk alone and enjoy every moment.
It has been on my mind in the last while that I should one day take you on a small, pictorial tour of my walk, just to show you some of the interesting sights I have come across. If I can ever remember to take my camera with me, I will do just that. Maybe you'd enjoy taking a walk with me :-).