Recommended Soundtrack: I wanna be your dog by The Stooges
I’m not great on making a training plan and sticking with it. When it comes to activity I’m more a go-along with whatever folks are up for. Yoga? Sure! Cycling? Yup! Walk? Uh-huh!
So when my beloved decided he wanted to up our step count when walking our dog, Lucy, I agreed. I offered that we could add 1 block to all our walks, short coffee break and our typical 30 minute morning, lunch & evening walks.
It totally worked. In August my average step count jumped from under 7,200 to 11,500. Partly this is because as Lucy gets older she can go on longer walks. The other part is my beloved’s joy in counting and metrics. He really loves hitting goals.
One night, after dinner and a glass of wine, he asked if we could go for another walk. He hadn’t hit 10,000 steps. I pointed out that 10,000 was an arbitrary goal. He laughed and shouted “Join me in meetng this arbitrary goal! Achievement is as meaningless as the goal BUT IT IS ALL WE HAVE!”
Of course he was being overly dramatic. Many times our common goals are based on best guesses and gut feels. I’m not much for tracking metrics or goals so I’ve happily handed over all of that to my partner. He’s a greyhound who needs a rabbit to chase.
The other being I’ve outsourced my motivation to is our resident gremlin, Lucy. She, like Gollum, both loves and hates our walks. She needs the movement but would rather do high intensity frisbee intervals than walk. But she’d rather walk than lay about.
I find I don’t have the cognitive or emotional depth for self discipline but I can say “yes” to the asks for walks. Like the dog, I’m just along for the ride these days and I am 100% ok with surrendering to the process.
I’m in the very privileged position of being able to work from home. I do knowledge work in the financial sector and we were deemed essential during the confinement in response to COVID 19. My beloved is also able to work from home.
Our other family members studied from home in the spring but now have jobs outside the house. But. Like. Folks. 5 people at home working, studying and eating 24/7 has really ramped up the housework.
We’ve felt it in the frequency of dishes needing to be done, bathrooms that need a scrub down (those at work toilet breaks really decrease the usage of the home crapper) and general need to tidy & clean taking more and more time. Plus there’s something about just sitting around that lowers my tolerance for home chaos. So the need for housework to increase is, in part, due to a higher standard and also to everyone being home. It’s exhausting.
As a feminist household we strive for an equal distribution of chores. It falls short a lot with the emerging adults, so my partner and I are really feeling the stress. It’s a very busy time of year for his sales job and my leadership role. There just seems to be no time for much else.
Enter Lucy, our seven month old puppy. She’s a Texas Heeler. For those unfamiliar with this compact, energetic mix she’s a cross between 2 herding dogs: Australian Shepherd and Australian Cattle Dog. She’s 100% ball of energy.
Before confinement we had our kids helping a lot with her care but now they are working outside the home and we are home all the dang time.
Lucy wakes up most days at 5:30 am. Regular readers of this blog know I’m not a morning person. Lucy doesn’t seem to care. She gets a 30 minute walk before we sit down to work, a quick coffee break walk around 10 am. A lunchtime 20-30 minute walk. A pre-dinner and post dinner walk. Yup. That’s. Uh. 5. Five dog walks, mostly done with my partner. The kids help with some mornings. We appreciate it but can’t count on it.
Between longer working hours, more housework and dog walking there’s not a lot else happening for workouts. Sometimes I get a 20-40 minute yoga routine in. But that’s it.
I’m tired friends so I’ve decided to be gentle with myself. There’s a lot going on so when there are moments that I can get a nap or a visit in with a friend I’m taking it.
Lucy is very good at pacing herself. She rests, plays and stretches all the time. She doesn’t worry about having goals or living up to expectations. She’s enthusiastic about eating and being comfortable.
Has your work/life balance shifted recently? How has that impacted your workouts?
I just hit the goal of 220 workouts in 2020 on the weekend. It sort of snuck up on me. In fact, I didn’t even notice when I first posted it. It’s not something I “had my eye on” the way I did last year. I’ve even wondered whether it seems like a bit of an impossibility or something people view with skepticism.
Last year, using as my basic criterion “if it gets me moving then it counts,” I managed to get in the 219, with a few extra but not many. The vast majority of sessions I counted were either yoga classes, runs, or resistance training sessions. I had a sort of minimum time limit of about 20 minutes before I would count something as a workout. Yoga and personal training were always an hour. And most of my runs are at least 20 minutes and sometimes considerably longer.
By the time 2020, going on the momentum of 2019, I had successfully incorporated conscious movement into my routine every day. Sometimes, especially but not only while I was in Mexico in January and February, I would do something twice a day, like yoga and running, or yoga and a 10K walk. Starting with Adriene’s “Home” yoga challenge in January, I have actually done yoga almost every day since the beginning of the year. When I started to notice the numbers really racking up on my “count” in the 220 in 2020 group, I began to count two things in a day as one workout (like run+yoga OR walk+yoga) unless one of those things was super exerting or considerably longer than an hour). It’s almost as if I felt bad!
But the fact is, the goal of being able to record a new workout often did motivate me to get moving. And once I had yoga as part of my daily routine, I didn’t want to break that streak of daily yoga. But for me yoga alone is not enough — it counts, but I need to either run, walk, or do some resistance training as well.
Another woman in the 220 in 2020 group also hit her 220 on the weekend. And she asked me, “what now?” My first answer was “keep going.” Which is sort of obvious. I went on to wonder whether there is any reason to keep recording and reporting my workouts, though. The group has achieved its purpose for me — over the past 18 months of being part of a group like this I have integrated physical activity into my daily life in a way I hadn’t quite before. This is made easier this year by my sabbatical, so I am much freer than I usually am. For at least a few more months I get to set my own hours. That allowed me to kick into high gear in the fall, with hot yoga every day (oh, how I miss hot yoga! The pandemic has effectively taken that out of my life for the indefinite future). I made a smooth transition to Yoga with Adriene when I went to Mexico for the winter. That gave me a headstart on the transition to online everything that the pandemic has foisted upon us.
The running/walking + yoga combo was just starting to feel old when I discovered, through Cate, the online Superhero workouts with Alex in late April. That was just the thing I needed to add a new dimension of challenge to my fitness life. I had set resistance training and even running aside for awhile, having injured myself last spring and endured a very slow recovery. For me the perfect balance is a routine that includes yoga, resistance training, and running/walking. I don’t tend to take a day off, opting instead for active rest, combining a more restorative yoga practice with a walk.
This commitment to a routine that includes daily physical activity has also been amazing for my mental health. I have had a tough couple of years that culminated in the finalization of my divorce in early January. Sometimes it felt as if regular physical activity was the only thing I could commit to as part of a daily schedule.
When I stepped away from being a regular on the blog at the end of last summer, it was partly because I had very little left to say publicly about fitness. That still holds true, with the occasional blog post (I think I’ve blogged about 5 times since I “left”) and my daily progress tracking in the 220 in 2020 group being the extent of it. Once in awhile I feel compelled to make some social commentary (like my commentary on “the covid-19” weight-gain jokes, which aren’t funny).
As I hit my 220 target early, with almost half a year stretching out before me, I feel that it’s cemented what started when Sam and I embarked on our Fittest by 50 Challenge and started the blog in 2012. The big shift for me during our challenge was to a more internal and personal relationship with fitness. I realize full well, for example, that no one else really cares, nor should they, what I do. This isn’t to say I haven’t felt supported, encouraged, and motivated by the group. It isn’t to say either that I haven’t enjoyed watching the fitness lives of other members — their accomplishments, their routines, the adventurous and exciting things they do. It is to say that, in the end, I do this for myself. And I’ve experienced the benefits in my life.
So the answer to the question, “what now?” actually is, “keep going.” Not to accumulate a higher number (though I will, if I keep reporting in the group), but because it’s now a thing I do that is a positive part of my life. And recognizing that, it makes no sense to stop. I also think it’s pretty awesome, and I’m not going to worry if that makes me sound boasty or whatever, because sometimes I think we are not boasty enough. We minimize things we do that are actually awesome. And since (as noted above) no one else really cares, and since I definitely do care, well…it makes sense for me to regard reaching this fitness milestone about 5 1/2 months early as an actual achievement. [high-fiving myself now despite slight discomfort at what I just said, which discomfort highlights that I’ve internalized the message about how women shouldn’t be self-congratulatory about what they do even though I actually think we should]
So that’s my “challenge group” story for 2020. Do you have one? If so, let us know in the comments how that helps you (or, if you fly solo, why that works best for you).
In my little city of London, Ontario we have a fantastic system of pathways–The Thames Valley Parkway– that run mostly along the river, through parks and wooded areas. It’s long and lovely, covering over 40 km of ground.
Not surprisingly people use it a lot, not just for leisure but also for commuting from one end/side of the city to the other, for walking their dogs, for exercise. But that’s not the sense in which it’s “multi-use.” That refers to the modes of moving along the path — people walk, run, ride their bikes, travel on their inline skates and skateboards and non-motorized scooters, and in wheelchairs and mobility scooters. The posted speed limit is 20 kilometres per hour. At the moment, there are signs asking people to respect the covid-19 physical distancing guidelines to remain at least 2m apart.
Yes, the physical distancing guidelines raise a whole new set of issues about giving others their space. And (apparently), COVID-19 restrictions have increased the use of the pathway system because our other options, like gyms and yoga studios, are all closed. Plus, kids are home and many adults are either working from home (giving them in some cases more flex in their schedules) or not working. With outdoor exercise being touted (rightly) as an effective way to nurture your mental and physical health at the same time, health experts have emphasized its importance for us during the isolation of the pandemic.
Most people who commented in the thread said that the usual rules of the road should apply, not just during the pandemic, but all the time (how it should be “all the time” was a recurring theme). That would mean pedestrians have the right of way. But not all agreed. Some thought, for example, that since pedestrians can more easily duck out of the way, cyclists should have the right of way. The fact is, the TVP is not a road and the city has not spelled out any guidelines for its use other than “share the path.” The convention is that on the two-lane pathway, pedestrians and cyclists alike use the right-hand lane.
The CBC London comment thread had the usual complaints about cyclists from pedestrians — they don’t ring their bell or say anything to let you know they’re approaching, they pass too closely, they go too fast, they ride in packs (or side-by-side). And there were the usual complaints about pedestrians from cyclists — they take up too much space instead of keeping to the right, they are wearing earbuds so they don’t hear you when you call out, they are sometimes erratic.
The path itself is anywhere from 2.4 to 4 metres wide. That makes it logistically impossible to maintain a two metre distance from everyone you might encounter, whether you’re on foot or on a bicycle, regardless of how much you’d like to keep a safe distance at all times.
Remember too that not everyone on foot is walking. I use the path as both a walker and a runner, and have also used it a lot as a cyclist. My view of what’s irritating, because in general that is how I would describe my reaction when other people’s use of the path creates friction for my use of it, depends a lot on what “mode” I’m in. As one person said to the CBC, “When you’re a pedestrian, you want to think the faster people should get out of your way, but now that I’ve been biking a bit more, I realize I have the opposite mindset when I’m on a bike.” Similarly, when I’m riding my bicycle (or even when I’m running), I get grumpy when people are walking together and taking up the whole lane. But of course, walking in the park together is a thing. An enjoyable thing. And now that we are physical distancing, walking with a friend required that you be further apart than usual.
The other morning when I was out running, I kept as far to the right as possible (I always do that for my own sense of safety from the fast cyclists). Most cyclists who needed to go around me gave a wide berth, but not 2m. I had the easiest time with the people who were running or walking in the other direction because I could (and did) just step a few feet onto the grass as I passed them. Indeed, when possible, I enjoy running on the softer edges beside the paved part, but it’s not always flat enough to do that without risk of turning onto an ankle. The most challenging obstacle I faced was the group of four people walking their large dogs. Between the people and the dogs on leashes, they were literally spread out over both sides of the path, creating a real blockade for cyclists. I did my usual thing and ran off the pathway to navigate around them, but I was annoyed.
I think the worst thing cyclists do besides passing too closely happens when there are pedestrians or runners coming towards me in the other lane and a cyclist approaching them from behind who wants to pass them. It has never been clear to me why it makes more sense from the cyclist’s point of view to ride straight into the path of a pedestrian or runner (me!) in the other lane instead of waiting for a clear passing opportunity. It would be as if you were driving on a two-lane highway and you just kept going at speed, passing cars in front of you without any regard for whether there was on-coming traffic. It wouldn’t even occur to you but quite honestly, 9/10 cyclists do this as if it’s the most reasonable choice in the world.
I am sort of onside with the view that there is no clear right-of-way rule that can easily apply in every case when it comes to the pathway. This is unfortunate because clear rules would be helpful. But I am aware that just because something annoys me doesn’t make it wrong. For example, I have been the cyclist too, and if there are lots of people walking it is exhausting to continually ring your bell or say “on your left.” Indeed, “on your left” can sometimes confuse people or startle them (though typically they will thank you for letting them know).
On the water, when boating, there are clear rules about sail boats having the right of way over power boats. But there is also a sort of convention that the boat who can easily maneuver out of the way should do so if it would be more difficult for the other boat (that’s the reasoning behind why a boat under sail typically has the right of way), even if the other boat technically has the right of way. And really, from the safety point of view, you need to be sensible — if you’ve technically got the right of way but holding your ground might mean you’re going to get run over (like if you’re sailing and a freighter is coming up behind you at twice your speed), then you get out of the way.
I operate kind of like that on the pathway. And most others do too. And as several people on the CBC London Facebook thread said, usually it goes pretty smoothly. And that is amazing considering how busy the TVP can be at times. But I have also taken to going as early in the morning as possible if I’m going to be on the path. And sometimes I don’t have the energy to put up with the added stress, so I just avoid the pathway altogether. I’ve adopted a general policy, that I expect I will maintain for as long as the physical distancing guidelines are required (read: until there is a vaccine and most people have been inoculated): I run alone.
I am still experimenting with physical-distanced walking with friends and I have to say I don’t love it. I need and like to connect in-person with a friend from time to time. But it’s hard to keep proper distance (some people disagree and say it’s easy — that’s not been my experience) and I feel like a jerk if I keep dwelling on it. It also proliferates the navigational challenges of encountering other pairs or larger groups of people walking, running, or cycling together. So, personally I have found it stressful, especially on the pathway. To be quite honest, my preferred way of doing physical-distanced visits with friends is to each bring our own chair and set them up at least six feet apart whether at the park or in someone’s yard. No navigating required. Public health recommendations uncompromisingly followed.
What’s obvious is that in the absence of totally separate pathways, like on the Vancouver seawall where the walking path is distinct from the cycling path, we will need to find a safe way to enjoy these spaces together. The safety and health issues of physical distancing are just one more thing to add to the mix this year. If we’re mostly out there to improve our sense of well-being, and we are truly all in this together, then the both the individual and public health benefits are best achieved by being chill instead of annoyed.
May is usually the month when academics get to catch our collective breath. Grades are submitted. Conference season is about to begin. And even for administrators it’s quieter with fewer faculty and students on campus. But this year isn’t like most years. We’re not on campus. We’re all working at home. For all of us this has been a long semester with unrelenting long days of video conference classes and meetings.
I’ve been reminding staff and faculty of the need to take holidays. We’re all getting worn down. Me too.
Thursday I posted to social media: “I’m taking tomorrow off as a holiday. I’m not going anywhere but I’m also staying off Zoom, WebEx, Teams etc. We need vacation days even during the pandemic. Maybe especially. I just realized recently that I was supposed to have a week’s holiday in California this April, after the conference in San Francisco that was cancelled. I’m going to take Cheddar for an extra long walk. And maybe bake banana bread. Read a novel. Just chill at home. It won’t feel like holiday holidays. But it will feel like a day off and that’s enough.”
How’d it go? Well it wasn’t holiday like exactly but it did feel like a good day off work and that’s pretty good. I slept in. That was an excellent start.
It was very rainy and so I was leery of the long dog walk idea initially. Cheddar, however, was not. Luckily it was warm and rainy and so it was actually nice being out there. Cheddar dragged me into the woods to see a dead raccoon. That wasn’t so nice but he didn’t touch it. He just needed me to see it apparently. I have a photo but I’ll spare you.
The nice thing about the rain is that I didn’t have to pay much attention to physical distancing. I think we were the only ones out walking along the river.
While walking I listened to Trevor Noah’s memoir Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood. It’s a terrific audiobook. I haven’t been listening to books lately while walking because of the need to chat and coordinate the six feet rule with fellow path walkers. Today was different and I’ve decided I’m going to embrace rainy days.
On our return from the long wet dog walk, Facebook memories reminded me that two years ago I was in Bremen and four years ago I was Innsbruck, Austria.
I was in Innsbruck for the Austro-Canadian Medical Ethics Workshop, “Man at the Heart of a Modern Medical Ethics: Challenges and Perspectives” and my talk was, “Making Decisions for Children as if Childhood Mattered: Reflections on Medical Decision Making and the Goods of Childhood.”
These days I’m spending some time racing in Virtual Innsbruck as it’s one of Zwift’s cycling worlds. It’s remarkably realistic. Sadly, especially, the hills!
Oh and 12 years ago I was in Canberra, Australia where I was a Visiting Professor in the Philosophy Department at the Australian National University where I also spent some time riding and racing my bike.
Here’s me on the Stromlo Crit Course.
So Germany, Austria, and Australia. So much travel, all impossible now. As academics begin what’s our usual summer conference season, it feels extra odd not to be travelling. Usually I head out to the west coast once or twice and go to a conference or two in Europe as well. This year I’m pretty settled in Guelph. It’s all been cancelled.
But I am also feeling happy to be home, with family and Cheddar, the dog. I’m enjoying our rainy day walks. I’m impressed that my knee is holding out. These are longer walks and more regular walks than I’ve been able to do for a few years now. I notice that in my post about Bremen, two years old, I was talking about being unable to walk to campus from the hotel.
I’ve been nervous about my knee surgery being put off in these Covid-19 times. But it looks like that will be okay. I’m doing fine. It’s not all bad news. And it’s good for all sorts of reasons, the climate chief among them, to get used to less summer conference travel.
Dear Miss Manners, I live in a crowded city during a time of pandemic. My only regular outing is my daily walk, to get some sunshine and enjoy some quiet contemplation. What is the best way to navigate shared roads and sidewalks while respecting social distancing? Sincerely, Walks Against Traffic.
If we are walking towards each other on the sidewalk, whomever is going against traffic should walk in the street. That way, any potential traffic dangers will be seen, and appropriate social distancing can be observed. Reasonable exceptions to this rule are people pushing strollers, those whose mobility are assisted by a wheelchair, and others with visible movement challenges. It is less clear to me how to navigate this situation when one of the people has a dog; however I’m inclined to believe that the rule still applies. But, I recognize that dogs can have rules of their own and they are not always as flexible in changing times as we would like them to be.
It has always been rude to walk aimlessly, staring down at your phone when there is any opportunity that another might need to walk around you. Nowadays, it seems nearly inexcusable. If you need to check your phone, respond to a text or change your music, find a driveway or other area you can step aside out of the way and take care of it. That way those who are sharing space with you needn’t feel alarmed that you are oblivious to their passing as you swerve into their space.
If you are walking with a friend, and you choose to maintain a safe distance from them as you walk together, prepare to have one person back off and walk single-file should someone be coming from the other direction. Expecting the approaching person to walk between you, and therefore be within contact of both of you as they pass, is unreasonable.
Bicycles belong on the street. This is true if you are an adult or a child. It is not reasonable for a pedestrian to be expected to keep necessary distance from you when you are moving significantly faster than they are. Stick to the street and ride with traffic. Behave in a manner that is predictable.
Those who choose to smoke or vape should find a private location to do this, not to impose their fumes on others using public spaces.
If you are traveling as a pack–a large group of friends or family walking or biking together–consider how your group may be forcing the community to accommodate your desires to move together as a roaming hoard. Walk in small groups, spread apart, so you can observe the other guidelines listed here.
If you are driving through a neighborhood, observe all traffic laws. Yes, I know that there are far fewer cars on the road. However, stop signs and speed limits are there for people’s safety, and pedestrians, runners, and cyclists are in larger numbers these days. We would like to avoid being hit by your car.
Did I miss anything? 🙂
Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found taking a daily walk and doing bodyweight inverted rows from her kitchen table, as a form of picking up heavy things and putting them down again, in Portland, Oregon.
This weekend I write to y’all from Ogunquit Maine, where my book club getaway is in progress. We’re a group of friends who enjoy books, each others’ company, cooking and eating yummy food, and movement.
I feel deeply connected to these women. We play multiple roles in each others’ lives: work colleagues, co-authors, confidants, cycling buddies, yoga friends, and of course fellow literary critics…
Yes, we are discussing a book this weekend (Good Morning, Midnight, by Lily Brooks-Dalton; IMHO definitely worth a read), but the main business of this retreat is to take time off from the world (no, we’re not talking about the world AT ALL in this post) and eat, sleep, talk, move, laugh, and talk some more.
What have we been up to? Friday it was a brief ride for some and clamber on rocks for most of us near the Nubble lighthouse. It was windy and cold– I mean, it’s March in Maine. Duh. But it was fun, even with a few very cold sprinkles of rain (worse than snow in my view). Then food prep, fireplace attention, puzzle-solving, lazy chat, and eventually, tottering off to bed.
Saturday was much more active. A couple of friends had their bikes and trainers in their cars, so did intervals outside in the cold on the deck (perfect), accompanied by rock music (my favorite tune was Rock You Like a Hurricane).
I didn’t bring my bike setup, instead opting for the ease of a yoga mat. I had a good view of the cyclists from inside (except when in down dog). Norah joined me for a nice morning stretchy workout.
Others decided to do walking meditation in the woods, appropriately bundled up for the weather.
Mid-afternoon we headed to the beach. The wind had died down, and the almost-full-moon was rising.
There was some cavorting.
As I finish up this post, I’m wondering if there’s any message here other than “hey, my very nice friends and I are having a very nice weekend in a very nice place.” Hmmm. I think I have one:
Life is tough. Bad things happen all the time, and a big bad thing is happening now. We are hearing a lot about how to deal with this and other big bad things. Let me add one more way: if you have the time and the space and it feels safe to do so, spend some easygoing time with people you care about.
Readers, what are you doing to deal with big bad news these days other than reading and listening and talking constantly about it and washing your hands? I’d love to hear from you.
From the Independent: “Over the last few years, the theory that walking 10,000 steps a day has become popularised as the key to health and weight loss. However, according to a new study, walking 10,000 steps a day won’t actually prevent weight gain, or lead to weight loss.”
I don’t have a lot to say about this start to the story, except….
WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT THERE WAS A CONNECTION BETWEEN WALKING LOTS AND LOSING WEIGHT?
More on the study: The study took 120 first year university students, all women, and had them walk either 10, 12 or 15,000 steps a day, 6 days a week, for 24 weeks. They also tracked their weights and their calories consumed. On average, no matter what group they were in, the students had all gained 3.5 lbs which is the average amount of weight students typically gain during their first semester of school.
Again, my reaction….
But here is the bit they don’t mention until the end of the story.
“However, the researchers did note that the increased steps meant an overall positive impact on students’ “physical activity patterns,” which they stated “may have other emotional and health benefits””
Why isn’t that the headline? It’s good news. Students struggle with stress and anxiety and all sorts of emotional and mental health issues when beginning university. Why isn’t that the focus rather than the 3.5 lbs they typically gain when confronted with stress and cafeteria style eating?
Probably my biggest complaint about health and exercise reporting is the emphasis on weight loss. If people do it for reasons of weight loss and then don’t lose weight, they quit. And then they miss out on all the real health benefits of physical activity.
I’m with Yoni Freedhoff (again): Exercise is the world’s best drug. It’s just not a weight-loss drug.
Let’s talk about the other benefits of walking lots. I’ve got a post in our drafts folder about the wonders of walking.
So walking is pretty wonderful. But a bit like the claims about handwriting versus laptop use, you’ve got to wonder, is that true for all of us? Not everyone can hand write. Not everyone walks. I mean, some people get around in wheelchairs. I’m in much less pain riding my bike. Why the focus on walking? What’s unique about it?
We need to distinguish between movement and the idea that most of our bodies are at their best when moving, and walking is one very easy, and for most people, natural way of getting about in the world.
But while walking is one way of getting around, it’s not the only way. It’s not just walking that helps us think better. Cycling helps our brains too.
In terms of the mental benefits of navigating terrain and following directions that’s true for wheel chair users too.
We should be careful when writing about walking to make it clear whether the benefits we’re talking about are specific to walking or whether they apply to other forms of physical activity as well. We should take note that while working is an easy form of physical activity for most people, that’s not true for everyone, a fact of which I’ve been made painfully aware these last few years.
That doesn’t mean if there are benefits unique to walking that we can’t talk about them. But we do need to recognize that they’re equally available to all.
Okay. But what did this study actually show? In short, it showed that, in a cohort of 904 people who were followed regularly from age 3 through and past age 45, that the adults in the lowest quintile (20%) of gait speed also had poorer physical health (as assessed by 19 different markers like blood pressure, BMI, cholesterol level, etc.), cognitive function, and accelerated rates of aging, compared with adults with normal gait speed (according to some chart somewhere). Because the study also had early childhood medical information (from age 3), they found that the lowest quintile group also was more likely to have manifested early signs of poorer cognitive health.
Do the researchers (or anyone who doesn’t write for a popular news outlet) think that one’s gait speed contributes to poorer physical and brain health and accelerated aging ? NO
Do the researchers think that walking faster will reduce cognitive decline, accelerated aging and poorer biomarkers of physical health? NO.
All health care providers recommend physical activity for health, but walking fast is not the moral of this story. Or any story, for that matter.
There is one good takeaway for clinicians here: including checks of people’s gaits intermittently through life may provide information to help detect conditions, or prevent advancement of conditions, or to treat them. This is still pretty speculative, as the nature of the association and the causal picture are still very unclear.
In an invited commentary on this article, Dr. Stephanie Sudinsky offers a really clear and important message for public health experts and also those of us who care about health through the lifespan:
The human brain is dynamic; it is constantly reorganizing itself according to exposures and experience. It is affected as an end organ by many other organ systems. Perhaps in this sense, brain health, reflected in brain structure, cognition, and gait speed, is not necessarily a first cause, but rather may be a consequence or mediator of lifelong opportunities and insults.
What this means to me is that it’s important to focus on ways to address early childhood cognitive functioning problems right away, through a variety of means. These means include better nutrition, safer physical environments for play and exercise, stimulation through early education and interventions, etc.
For adults, it means that we should consider expanding our notion of health risks to include those “lifelong mediators of opportunities and insults” like access to food, health care, safe living spaces, accessible opportunities for movement, safer workplaces, etc.
None of us can outrun our own mortality. Walking faster won’t whisk us away from our own aging. Walking more slowly won’t send us into cognitive decline or poorer health.
We know roughly what to do for our own health. If you’re looking for tips, I suggest dancing. At your own speed. That’s what these people in Mozambique did to celebrate World Disability Day in 2017.