7 BENEFITS WALKING BRINGS TO OLD LADIES
I have read many articles about walking, but they seemed theoretical, not living. This one will be the living story of a 70 year old walker- me!
I try to exercise for an hour daily. I spend more time at the computer than my body prefers so I must move a great deal to compensate or it gets cramped and fussy. Here’s what I gain from walking:
1. The microbes in the gut pretty much run the whole show. Studies have shown that these little critters really like exercise and walking can help encourage them to flourish, amazingly, more than any other factors, including diet and the use of probiotics.
2. Walking also massages the gut as well as strengthening the core. (Pardon the TMI, but if I don’t walk, I don’t poop.) Keep those shoulders back and your head high. Give those lungs some space to work!
3. My hormones tend to get out of whack, and walking helps keep them in line. The body secretes and circulates about 50 different hormones, messengers to to all our tissues and organs. Produced by the endocrine glands, hormones travel through the bloodstream, little chemical messengers, controlling most of our body’s major systems. They regulate our heart rate, our metabolism, how the body gets and utilizes energy from the foods we eat. Appetite, mood, sexual function and reproduction, growth and development and our sleep cycles are all affected by the functioning of our glands.
The body regulates hormone production to keep the body in balance. Imbalances caused by a decline in function of any one organ ricochet through the body as other organs and glands struggle to compensate.
After menopause, the changes in your hormones can greatly affect your health. Studies have shown that exercise can combat those changes.
4. When I start the day off with a nice 20 minute walk, I find myself more cheerful. I attribute this mood improvement to several factors. The first is the hormone tune-up. The second is just getting outside and looking at the trees and sky is highly therapeutic. I often stop to chat with neighbors who are walking their dogs or raking leaves. A nice break from the virtual world! I take these :20 breaks at least 3 times a day with smaller ones in between.
5. After my mother, then 95, recovered from her terrible fall, I went to California to get her out of bed and walking. After months of inactivity, every move was painful. She was terrified that the pain was an indicator that she was re-injuring herself. I explained the need to move but nothing I could say broke through the fear and pain.
In my efforts to find the tiniest motions that she could perform that wouldn’t scare her, I searched YouTube for hours. I hit upon an old video by Jack LaLaine in which he demonstrated exercises to be done by an invalid, from a bed. He described these exercises as “getting the rust out.” I said this phrase to my mother and she instantly brightened and repeated it back to me. Finally, a concept that made sense to her and like the Tin Woodsman, she set about ridding herself of rust.
Walking gets the rust out by increasing blood and lymph circulation. Lymph is a clear, almost white fluid made up of white blood cells, especially the ones called lymphocytes, which are the cells that attack bacteria in the blood. Lymph circulates through the body, depositing nutrients and oxygen while it collects harmful materials to be disposed.
Lymph is stored in the body in nodes which are soft, small, round- or bean-shaped structures. located in clusters in various parts of the body, such as the:
· Inside the center of the chest and abdomen
Unlike our blood which is pumped by our hearts, lymph relies on body motion to propel it to the various parts of the body. You can see from the locations of these nodes that walking, while moving the arms as well as the legs is necessary to pump the fluid. I mean really move the arms! You have seen how an Olympic athlete pumps her arms while running? Move your arms just as vigorously.
After too many years at a computer, I developed painful nodes under my arms. The pain spread around my abdomen so horribly that I couldn’t wear a bra because my breasts and my ribs were on fire! I could barely use my right arm. I saw many doctors about it. Nobody knew what it was until I went to a physical therapist who got me moving my body, especially those arms. No more lymph issues.
6. Your heart and circulatory system love walking. The American Heart Association says, “Research has shown that walking can have a significant impact on your health by lowering your chances of heart disease.” They suggest a target of 30 minutes of brisk walking at least 5 times a week. This is old news. I’m just reminding you!
7. The key way that exercise benefits me is that it makes me aware of my body in a positive way. My various aches and pains often force my attention to it, but exercising changes my relationship with my body from victim to master, invalid to athlete.
AT 70, WALKING MAKES MY LIFE BETTER
Over the past 2 years I have gotten more honest with my diet and shed 60+ pounds and increased my exercise to a minimum of an hour a day. I challenge myself in yoga 5 days a week, 3 aided by a chair with the other old ladies, once in a private, at home lesson and once a week in a class on the mat with a younger crowd where I look like a fool struggling to assume many of the poses. Heck, I don’t even try on some of them! I trot around my neighborhood daily for several 10-20 minute intervals. Often I follow the walk or the class with a strategically placed ice pack, but I get back out there.
Little by little I am learning how to master my 70 year old body, bending it to my will- building muscle, shedding fat, getting pink and gaining strength and energy. I’m dang lucky. I have a sister-in-law who is a fitness trainer for the over 55 crowd- “so you can dance at your grandchild’s wedding.” She’s a continent away but sends me exercise and cookbooks and once gifted me a Fitbit to track my daily steps. I report my wins to her knowing that she’s totally aware of what it takes to achieve them. She’s the one with the big smile you see all over my blog!