I am 49 years old. I know, I know, I don’t really believe it myself, but I have checked the sums and they line up.
Part of being 49 means realizing that I won’t live forever. Dad’s death last year especially made that hit home. He was only 21 years older than me – and 21 years doesn’t seem like all that long.
So, among other things, I have decided to take my health more seriously. Back in March, I took up two practices that have had a huge impact on my well-being: I walk every day, and I log my food. I have lost 41 pounds thus far, and while we know that weight is an imperfect proxy for health, they were 41 pounds I needed to lose.
I will talk about my relationship with food another day, but today I want to tell you about my walking.
The whole thing is pretty simple: I needed something that I could fit in my day, that was dead simple to do, that didn’t require new clothes or memberships (because COVID), that I could do at home (because COVID), and that wouldn’t get me in the hospital or have a high chance of injuring me (because COVID).
So I decided to go walking.
I used to be a runner. I ran in high school. I ran in the Marines. I ran 5 and 10K races in my 20’s. And then I got married and life got busy and then one day, I wasn’t a runner any more. I took it back up in my mid-forties, but honestly, it wasn’t fun anymore, and I hurt myself twice. When I moved to MS, it was one of the things that got lost in the chaos.
Which was a shame, because while I no longer loved to run, I loved how I felt having ran. I don’t mean immediately after, in the afterglow of the so-called runners high. I mean, regular physical activity makes my life better. I sleep better, I think better, and my body craves the routine.
Last year in the early days of the pandemic, my 7-year-old foster son and I would go for walks in the neighborhood as a way of seeking connection and getting his energy out. In those early, super scary, yet optimistic days (remember when we thought we could flatten the curve with a 2-week shutdown?), those walks were my salvation.
But this spring, I decided to take control of my health. My pants were super snug, I had been doom-eating all through the winter, and Dad’s death last October had sent me into a depressive spiral. I needed to move.
So I bought some $25 shoes at Costco and walked to the end of the road and back. The next day I did it again. And then again.
After a week I bought a fitness watch, to time my pace. That week I crossed the intersection at the end of the street.
These days, I walk to the dead end of our road, 1.25 miles away, wave at the lady who lives there and is always on her porch, chain smoking while doing something on her iPad while an old furry dog sleeps at her feet, and then turn around and come home. 41 minutes round trip, give or take petting a dog or chatting with a neighbor.
The ritual of it all is soothing. Put on the shoes, set the watch, walk to the end of the driveway and turn right. Some days I listen to podcasts, some days I listen to audio books from the library, and some days I am content to let the neighborhood remix of the birds, traffic hum and leaf blowers sooth me into a sort of hypnotic repose.
One added benefit of having a set route that I do every day is noticing the subtle shifts as the seasons roll through, the buds in the spring, the turning leaves at the beginning of fall, the pears that ripened on that tree on the corner, the persimmons that looked ripe last week but fooled you into biting it, leaving you with its astringent reminder that you can’t eat them before frost, no matter what they promise. The blackberry thicket behind the overgrown crepe myrtle, the mulberry tree whose limbs are *just* out of reach.
It connects and grounds me to this place, too. I know which house has the kids that leave their toys out, the house that supported the last President a little *too* fervently, the house that always has 5-6 wine bottles on the curb on Mondays, the house that has what appears to be a classic 50’s Chevy in their garage, and yes, my friend Beth, she of the chain smoking and the furry pup.
I know that Liz is working on a new renovation, that Evelyn got the water leak fixed, that Kam is doing well in school and that her brother loves to give high fives. Walking this street every day means I notice that people fly around that curve, that the potholes are really getting bad on Meadowbrook and that the abandoned house on that corner has been getting more and more ratty. Because I walk this road every day, I notice it in a way I never would at 45 miles per hour.
All of this local knowledge makes me love this neighborhood even more than I did, and for not the first time, I learn that what is good for me is also good for the world around me.