How I became a born-again walker

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A learner is sometimes the best teacher.

bootcamp2015-small 2Who am I to give advice about walking? Somebody who used to be not a human as we know it but a balloon on a string, that’s who.

I deeply appreciate the joy of walking for that very reason: for years I was virtually unconscious of my body when out for a trot. All my attention was locked inside my brain. And what an astounding machine it was too, by gum.

I was a mindless walker

Think think think. Puzzle puzzle puzzle. Imagine imagine imagine. I was a biological thinking machine, propelled forward horizontally by mysterious means. I was conscious only of my thoughts; I cared only for my thoughts.

I experienced myself as a free-floating brain sailing over footpaths and dangling something vague beneath me. That something vague was… my body. Legs? What legs?

You were right on the button, Vi!

My mother-in-law Vi used to say, often, in fact pretty much daily, “As long as you’ve got your health…” A cliché, and so true. By the time she died, she had 20 serious health conditions—19 that she knew about, plus dementia. She began suffering from arthritis in her thirties; even at that age, the idea of going for a walk for pleasure was completely alien to her.

Well, Vi, I’ve been a hell of a lot luckier than you were. And I’ll carry on walking, which is both a cause and effect of having my health, as you put it.

Walking up and down stairs. Walking to the pool on Tuesdays. Walking over Mt Vic on Fridays. Walking to town for errands and entertainment. Walking the compost bucket to the community gardens. Walking my grandson to the park on Saturdays. Walking to meet friends. And once in a while, most deliciously, walking on a beach or in a forest.

Enjoy your walk! 

You’ll have your own walking routes and reasons. Walking the dog? Hiking in the Solomon Islands, shopping for hot air balloons, touring the estate?

Enjoy your walk. It’s your very own. Your walk is your choice, your walk is you.
Enjoy your walk. Even if you are in a wheelchair or using a walker.
Enjoy your walk. That’s not just a cliché: it’s a prescription.

Image from Chiaroscuro 1910, Senior Class Yearbook, University of Montevallo, via Internet Archive Book Images. Image of cyclists taken by a friend or relative, but I forget who, sorry.

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Doing the Otago Rail Trail with friends: my 70th birthday treat and a celebration of sheer good luck so far
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When it comes to exercise, less is less

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bootcamp2015-small 2Obviously, a good exercise programme was always going to be high on my boot camp list of challenges. To prepare for a happy retirement without built-in exercise would just be ridiculous, a denial of all scientific evidence on the subject of aging.

 A funny thing happens every time a new research project confirms the power of exercise to improve cognition, physical health, mental health and happiness: lifestyle journalists tend to interpret the results in terms of minimum dosage.

If you just get off your bum now and then, they say, it’ll save your life. Just get on an exercycle for 15 minutes a week. Just walk for 10 minutes a month. Just roll over in bed. They’re assuming that weall want to know how little exercise we can get away with.

Of course, they may be right about our extremely low ambitions. And it’s true that any exercise, even a few steps per day, is exponentially better than no exercise at all.

However, aiming at the minimum implies that exercise is a tedious chore or a virtual vitamin pill. “Let’s get this over and done with as fast as possible so we can get into the tasty part of the day.”

Don’t take exercise like a pill

If you take exercise like a pill, it’s no fun. And if it’s no fun, the habit is not likely to stick. I should know: I’ve been there, done that.

For about five years, an exercycle sat in a corner of my living room. Perfectly positioned for watching TV. Grudgingly, cynically, I intended to use it for just 15 minutes once or twice a week in the evenings. I figured that would not be hard. But it was. The ugly beast was as good as new when I sold it on Trademe.

Similarly, a set of weights is lurking amongst my gardening tools. For a couple of months I used them twice a week … then once a week … for just 10 minutes or so each time. They’re getting rusty now.

When it comes to exercise, less is not more: less is less. And before you know it, less becomes nothing.

So in my boot camp I decided to shoot for a happy-making programme. It’s only a small jump from exercise as a duty to exercise for pleasure. I need to be rewarded by more than a sense of righteousness: like most people I need immediate gratification too.

Your pleasure is my drudgery and vice versa

Everyone’s different! Isn’t that great? So don’t imagine I’m telling you what sort of exercise programme you should be following.

I never got any joy from a brief session by myself on the exercycle: it was not an end in itself for me—but some people get a buzz out of that.  Working the dumb bells all alone in my lounge seemed pointless—but you might just love it.

The thing is for each of us to find a programme that suits us personally, something that brings its own rewards so that we are eager to achieve.

Exercise as a pleasure

Exercise as a pill is unnatural and I suspect, counter-productive. If you enjoy tennis or golf, for example, you don’t set out to do the minimum. You don’t say to your friends, let’s just have one serve each, or let’s just play two holes. Where’s the fun in that? You play as much as you can, not as little as you can, because you are playing for pleasure.

The pleasure of companionship or at least company. The pleasure of muscles squidging, joints loosening, skin glowing, heart pumping, chest expanding, feet steadying, a good shot. The pleasure of increasing mastery. The concomitant pleasures of better sleep, better mood, better brain.

No matter what your age, the best exercise brings a quiet sense of power and freedom and satisfaction. On so many levels, it feels good!

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Image from “Cycling art, energy and locomotion: a series of remarks on the development of bicycles, tricycles, and man-motor carriages” (1889) by Scott, Robert Pittis. Internet Archive Book Images. Photo of me cycling in Tonga by Jamie Bull.

Reframing real estate: tell a new story

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View from my apartment deck

Reframing reality. I’ve known about reframing since hearing these immortal words on a Louise Hay tape 20 years ago:

A thought is only a thought. You can think a new thought.

Truly? Really? I considered that idea with amazement. I knew it was true, and what a relief!

I have used reframing often since then. It changes everything! Or rather, you can change your frame of mind and this (thinking a new thought) can seem to change your entire situation. Last year a cognitive behaviour therapist enabled me to reframe a stressful reality after two visits. And of course I can always see when others need it, oh yes! I might even presumptuously advise them to use it.

But still, at times, boom! It’s me who needs it—but I’m blind to the fact.

Responsibility for real estate: a story that needed to change

Over the last few weeks I slid into a situation that was causing me great stress. Here is the story I told myself.

  • I’m Chair of the body corporate responsible for the block of 6 flats in which I live.
  • Body corporates now have major issues with earthquake proofing and health and safety policies
  • Body corporate office bearers now have major liability. If you fail in your duties and a tradesperson gets injured, you may have to pay $60,000 or $600,000
  • We meet only (clue: note that word only) 42% of local earthquake-proofing requirements.
  • Insurance companies are likely to raise their own requirements to 70%, or to raise fees for buildings below that level.
  • Earthquake-proofing of an old building like ours, built in 1940 same as me, is hugely stressful for the occupants, costs millions and affects saleability.
  •  Arithmetic is the problem: we have only five owners to do a huge amount of work
  • As Chair I feel overburdened.
  • It might be better to sell my apartment and buy a small house in the same neighbourhood.

Now, all those statements are true. Nevertheless it was a bad story, one that locked me into negativity and anxiety.

A better story which is equally true

I got lucky talking to a brilliant real estate agent. He said to me, “You need to reframe.”

He didn’t need to say another word. I knew exactly what he meant and within seconds I switched to a different story. I mean it, within seconds!

  • I live in a wonderful apartment with 360 degree views, sun, space, and everything else I need.
  • It’s worth enough so that I could sell it and look for a small standalone place.
  • But this beloved city-neighbourhood has only 400 homes and many of them are unhealthy. I am very, very lucky!
  • Our body corporate members are willing and able. We can organise ourselves so that the work is equally shared.
  • Compared with most other body corporates our problems are tiny.

Almost instantly the chips fell into place and I became confident and serene. We will have problems, of course we will! So? Others should be half as lucky.

That was easy! Ever tried it?