Ahhh—Spring is in the air in Nebraska. The birds are chirping, flowers are blooming, the trees are budding. Love is in the air, and so is the rain and wind, wind, and more wind. Oh, the life of the outdoor enthusiast is never easy. Even so, after several months of winter, it is so nice to put away the mittens and stocking caps and actually feel that ever-present wind on bare legs. All in all, we will take it.
For a lot of people this is the time to resume exercising. Suddenly there are a lot more people out walking now that the weather has turned. Some of them look like newbies. Fresh off the couch, or so it appears. But good for them, getting out there and doing it. The other day I saw a young woman pushing a baby stroller on the path that circles the lake in the park. I thought, how nice, she is taking her baby for a walk. Then I noticed she had two small dogs following her. Eventually I realized the stroller was actually a dog stroller. When the dogs got tired she would put them in the stroller so she could continue her walk uninterrupted. I’ll bet the dogs loved it.
I had a friend years ago who was a better athlete than me and he would literally take several months off each year in the winter and then start running in the spring and throughout the summer, only to quit again in the late fall. It used to irritate me, as a year-round exerciser, that he could take up his “hobby”, as he called it, and run much faster than me with only limited training. That was back when I was trying to set personal records – a long time ago in other words. I thought of him as a fair weather runner, but I have to admit I was a little envious of his natural ability.
Now, many years later and a little better educated on the benefits of regular, consistent exercising, I realize he may have won the battle, but people who keep at it get the last laugh when it comes to good health. In the latest issue of Runner’s World,
there is an interesting article by Amby Burfoot, Use It Or Lose It. Burfoot, a world class runner back in the 60’s and 70’s, is a staff writer for the magazine and author who has logged about 110,000 miles over 54 years. He says that in the early days runners like him heard all these dire warnings about how they would end up a wreck long term: “My heart would grow weak with fatigue. The disks in my back would be ground to dust. My knees, if they moved at all, would creak and groan.” I used to hear the same thing.
Burfoot cites the many studies done over the years that prove otherwise. Here are a few samples: The Cooper Aerobics Center, founded by Ken Cooper, has studied the benefits of exercise for 46 years and has published more than 600 studies. The studies show strong links between fitness and lower mortality rates, as well as decreased risk of heart disease, dementia, and hypertension.
A study by James Fries, an arthritis expert, followed two groups of 400 older individuals for 21 years: The one group either didn’t exercise or only sporadically, while the other was runners who worked out faithfully. The runners not only lived an average of 7 years longer, but also experienced a much lower rate of disability of any kind. Burfoot cited another study which examined what might happen if midlife subjects (average age 54), starting exercising and moved from least fit to intermediate or most fit. Their mortality rate dropped by 40%! Even more remarkable was a study of 4,000 subjects in their 60’s and 70’s, many of whom had chronic health problems, such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Those in that group with two or more conditions who kept exercising had up to a 47% lower mortality compared to non-exercisers. It is never too late to start an exercise regime.
Have you heard about the Weekend Warrior study? Over an eighteen year period, researchers followed the exercise patterns of over 63,000 people in England and Scotland. They found that those who did the recommended 75 minutes of vigorous exercise or 150 minutes of moderate exercise and managed to get this in on the weekend, derived almost as many benefits health-wise as those who spread it out over the week: 40% lower risk of cardiovascular disease, 30% lower risk of overall death, 18% lower risk of death due to cancer. Now you don’t even have to feel guilty for sleeping in instead of getting to the gym. They don’t say anything in the study about sore muscles though – ugh.
Oh, and about the knees. Yes, you can hurt your knees doing regular exercise, but contrary to what many believe, knees are not like the brakes on your car. They do not necessarily wear out from repeated use. They can actually get stronger – bone gets denser and muscles and tendons strengthen. Now, having said that, there are people with bad knees who are best off doing activities that don’t put as much stress on the knees, such as elliptical, recumbent bike, or swimming. Even if you have no knee problems, three things to remember: 1. Good shoes. Runner’s World has all kinds of information on the best type of shoes depending on your specific needs. 2. Cross train. I got that message about 15 years ago when I had a cartilage tear and modified my exercise habits to include weights and alternatives like cycling. 3. Build up gradually. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is your body. Listen to your body. While it is normal to have soreness as a result of exercising, a sharp pain or an ache that won’t go away might be cause for concern.
Do you need some inspiration to get moving? Herbie Fitch sets the standard for the rest of us. I like to go to the local park and sit and have lunch and read before I go to work. I started noticing this guy in a parka who would be out there, even in a snowstorm, trekking around the lake. He would be at it for a long time, walking at a fast clip. His gait was pretty distinctive, so I figured out after a while that he was at it about every day, regardless of the weather. One day I introduced myself to Herbie. He cheerfully told me about himself. He is 66 years old and began walking 5 years ago. He started out 3 days a week, then upped it to 5 and now walks 7 days a week, 75 minutes or more each time – 5 trips around the park. He said he only missed one day this past winter when there was so much ice on the sidewalk he couldn’t get traction. Herbie keeps up his walking wherever he goes, including when he visits his grand kids in Omaha. But he said he didn’t much like walking around Zorinsky Lake there because of so many runners and bikers.
What makes Herbie’s story more interesting is what he has had to overcome. He had polio as a kid and still struggles with its effects, all these years later. He explained to me that he had his ankles fused several years ago with rods and held in place by a dozen pins. He also has circulation problems that cause his legs to swell up to twice their size. The support hose he wears and the walking help him keep the swelling under control. This is one gentleman who doesn’t let a little thing like polio get him down. I guess you could say he is exercising for his good health.
I’m sure there are many other interesting stories out there and I would be glad to hear from readers who would like to share them.
One last thing about the joy of taking it out on the roads in a rural area and then I promise to end this: A few days ago I got in 10 miles bicycling on the gravel roads around where I live. Can you guess how many vehicles I encountered on my ride? Exactly two.