When the pandemic kicked off, the Empty Nesters shared in the general uncertainty. Truth be told, however, at the outset we enjoyed ourselves. The Nest refilled. We had one daughter in the process of moving. On the condition that she bring the grandchild, we allowed her and her husband to stay with us while they prepared the new house. The other daughter was remote teaching and it seemed a little unfair to exclude her. Hunkered down and fortified by an epic trip to the grocery store, we launched into the “festival of the sweatpants.”
Snacking by day, gorging by night over long family dinners with leftovers for breakfast distracted us from all the general craziness. The miracle of the sweatpant hid the fact that the pandemic had not eradicated normal biological consequences for abnormal behavior. The reconnection with the kids was reward enough, the tasty food and wine topped it all off. Except that about a month in, I realized “I can’t see my feet!” Particularly troubling for a guy who is size 14.
Aging exerts Newtonian forces on your body. There is somewhere a formula that measures the fact that the older you get, the harder the calories cling to you. Even before COVID-world took hold, that formula was wreaking havoc on me. The home all day, food free for all just plugged an exponent into the age-calorie retention formula. So there I was April of this year, footless.
My bride and I decided to try to reverse the tide. Our strategy was simple. Eat less, exercise more. On the eat less front we ran across one gigantic help-The Defined Dish Cookbook. I claim no credit for the meal preparation. M’Lissa assures me the recipes are easily made so I take her word for it. I attest that the meals tasted better than the stuff we were eating during the binge period. Half the battle won right there.
Exercise, however, presented a more difficult problem. When you skip a regular workout program for roughly a decade, jumping back in where you left off is not really an option. The combination of weight and age lures you into the “1-day on, 6-days of recovery” cycle that falls a bit short of peak effectiveness. After several false starts, I committed to the entry-level fitness regime: walking.
That decision hurt. At various times in my life, I have been a runner, a tennis player, a swimmer and a regular exercise class attendee. I might glance at a men’s magazine article touting the benefits of walking, but reading it was out of the question. Walking as exercise? Maybe for older or less athletic people. Not really necessary for me. I realized my physical limitations so I never saw myself as a Ferrari; a classic American muscle car might be in the picture though. Saying I was going to walk for exercise was like admitting I was a Yugo.
Rationalization saved the day. Sure, I might walk for a week or two. A couple of loops around the neighborhood will help get my legs back. A precursor to bigger things, in a couple of months I will be triathlon training. That was seven months ago and I am yet to buy Speedo or a carbon fiber bike. Everyday still sees M’Lissa and me out doing pedestrian exercise. We started at 2 miles and struggled some, particularly if it was warm. Our most frequent evening course now is 5.67 miles. We try to do a 10-miler at least once a week. Between the Defined Dish eating and the walking, there is over 100 pounds less for the mattress to support at night.
I twinge a little bit inside when a runner flies by us or a biker wheels past, particularly the latter. Even with the weight loss I would look like kolache wearing those weird cyclist outfits. The envy passes, however, and we just keep on trucking. And now I am writing the article I would never read, in praise of walking.
The obvious things first. Some is always better than none, so walking is better than sitting on the couch. It is hard to hurt yourself walking. As a result, you do not end up taking time off for recovery. Walking is the cheapest exercise there is. In fact, I believe it saved us money. We spent enough evening time away from the television that we finally cut the cable. In a pandemic, if walking is your exercise of choice, you can do it safely.
The less obvious things second, all of which fall under the general theme of “I am really surprised I enjoy this so much.” Walking teaches you about your neighborhood and your city. We have met new friends on our walks, people we see regularly now and chat with for a minute or two. As our walk takes us downtown, we know which businesses are maintaining and which are struggling. Venturing into the revitalizing area of our town (Elm St. in Waco for those close to us) exposed us to exciting new ventures. Our Saturday strolls along the Brazos River revealed a trail of delightful sculptures that we sort of knew were there, yet had no appreciation for until we saw them up close.
Our marriage improved. I make no promises here. Spending a daily hour and a half with your significant other and without the traditional escape hatches of television, work, nail clipping, or whatever will result in increased communication. Whenever two humans communicate, the relationship will move one direction or another. Ours trended positive. All kidding aside, knowing more about your best friend’s day, their challenges, heartaches and successes, makes life easier to take.
My outlook brightened. Less screen time had to help, particularly given the content inside our screens these days. There is more to walking than just missing out on bad things. A Stanford-sponsored study determined that waking can boost your creativity by more than 60%. It turns out that we experience those “aha!” moments more frequently when our minds do not process information continuously. Forcing yourself into a situation where your mind slows down produces substantial benefit. Another study supported the idea that walking in nature enhances your mood, even with depression or anxiety as a starting place.
Walking is also an underrated form of physical exertion. Much exercise tends to be somewhat static. The same motion repeated over and over. Treadmill running is the best example. Walking outdoors inherently means walking up and down hills, making turns, altering your gait and speeding up and slowing down. It should not be that surprising that the health benefits of a regular walking program are at least as good as any other type of exercise.
When COVID ends, I might yet return to the gym, the court or the pool. If I do, I have the humblest of exercises to thank for being the gateway. If I never make it back to being an “athlete” I will be just as healthy as long as I eat right and keep walking. Maybe not a Corvette, Mustang or Camaro. But I will settle for being a Jeep.