These legs were made for walking

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These legs were made for walking too, but I prefer my own.

bootcamp2015-small 2Walking. I’ve been doing it for 74 years but I never want to take this miraculous skill for granted. Many of my friends have crook knees or ankles. Some have cranky hips or ceramic hips or bad backs. Some have MS or asthma or bronchiectasis. I’m humbled by their courage and ingenuity as they continue to get around, one way or the other.

Walking is tangled up with independence and free will as well as health and fun.

Walking style provides cues about health

Walking is also linked to youthfulness. Not-walking is a fear associated with old age.

This obvious fact hit me like a ton of bricks when a friend came to stay recently. A whole bunch of odd problems had me worried. At pedestrian crossings, I had to restrain her from rushing across when the red man said Stop, because her automatic impulse was to jaywalk. She was confused about distances and directions and buses and taxis. She rushed ahead, leaning forwards at an angle, then stopped often to take a breath. I’m pretty slow on the uptake, but after a couple of days, I finally got the message: she was ill.

A few months later we learned that she had a form of motor neuron disease. A year later, she was dead.

Join the non-existent leg-appreciation society

But this blog post is not about the larger topic of my friend’s devastating illness and death. It’s about walking.

Walking is simple, natural, automatic, free, always available day or night—no trainer, gym or special equipment required. And this precious skill can be eroded by illness or accident.

After my friend’s visit, I love my legs more than ever. I plan to love them and use them and learn from them for many more years.  In fact I may start an international leg-appreciation society. When my own legs stop working quite so well one day. I will still appreciate what they used to do, decade after decade, without a job description or vision statement or instruction manual.

They have done so much more than walk. They have negotiated footpaths and steps and mountain trails and forests and beaches and farms. They have carried me up and down hills and cliffs and over ice and snow and sand. They have kept me afloat through surf and rivers and lagoons. They have crawled and skipped and skied and marched and run and kicked and danced and squatted and pranced and lunged  and planked. They have raised me safely out of chairs and baths and pot-holes.

Thank you legs!

Phone apps for walking

Breeze used to be my favourite phone app. Its daily cheerleading made me aware of how far I was walking each day. I wiped the app one day when my phone was overloaded with data. Now I want Breeze back again, but my phone tells me I have to get it through the Romanian app store. Romania? I dunno. Beats me.

With a compatible app, walking becomes a substantial component of the exercise regime instead of a means of getting from A. to B. If at first you take only 400 steps on a typical day, that’s not a tragedy, it’s an opportunity. Such satisfaction lies ahead as you notch up the steps, little by little, day by day.

P.S. I think my daily steps are usually around 7000. I think They want me to buy a Fitbit.

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Mechanical toy via Internet Archive Book Images, from Scientific American March 1903. Shadow legs a selfie by Rachel McAlpine, CC BY 3.0

Are you trapped in an age-cage?

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Just because there’s an age-cage, that doesn’t mean we have to walk right in. Or if we do, we can walk right out again. The door isn’t locked — in fact, there is no door, let alone a key, let alone a keeper. Incarceration on the basis of chronological age isn’t mandatory.

However, a short spell in the cage can be salutary, for you discover that elevation, safety and seclusion come at a price.Yes, you are damned by association with the greengrocer’s apostrophe. But the true price you pay is immobility: you can’t dance!

WOMAD: an intergenerational festival on a  hill

Last weekend I was at WOMAD New Zealand with two daughters and two grandchildren. Ruby (not her real name) (12) is adamant that we have to keep going to WOMAD every year forever. No hardship! We all love this colourful, crowded, musical bonanza in the divine setting of Pukekura Park in New Plymouth, this 3-day family holiday.

Now, WOMAD NZ is a classic multigenerational festival. Plenty of children, swarms of pre-teens, parents and babies and mid-lifers and, yes, a load of people in their 70s and older.

The venue has a steep hill, enfolding the Brooklands Bowl. Basically, again and again you’re climbing up and down this pretty steep hill as you hurry to the next artist on your list, moving from stage to stage every hour for two and a half days. Disabled people are catered for and there’s a very popular Kidzone — but how about “old people”? We are not deterred. We are there in our thousands.

Who gets a special stand? The “over 65’s”

Three stands provide for, in total, about 180 of the “over 65’s”. As you see from the next photo, the people in the stands are almost indistinguishable from the general crowd. Most wear colourful clothing — the unwritten rule is to wear at least one item that you wouldn’t wear at work or out shopping.

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The difference is that in the cage, people are stationary, locked to their seats; and out of the cage, they are moving.

Metaphorical riff on the age-cage

A couple of times I went into the age-cage  and each time regretted it within minutes. The music pushed and pulled and begged the audience to dance or at least to twitch or stretch or jiggle. A woman in a purple fascinator began to bum-dance and I danced with my fingers. But moving is not the done thing, not at all. What you have to do is sit in one place, maybe chat a little, maybe eat, maybe cross or uncross your legs. Nobody frowned at us, but to move (except to leave) was a lonely business.

Perhaps the age cage is a like naughty step, a time-out room for oldies to contemplate our bad behaviour… Or like an old-fashioned Rest Room in a department store, a spot where ladies go for a lie down… Or an elite club where we can escape the hoi-polloi… Above all, it’s a safe pozzy for people who need a break from struggling with steps and hills, people who want a good view, and people who can’t easily sit on the ground..

As I’m fit enough to have the luxury of choice, the age-cage is no place to stay for long. Take me back to the not-very-bad behaviour and the hoi-polloi. Take me back to the dancing!

Next year, come to WOMAD NZ! (Get fit first.)