Every month my wrist-spy* suggests a fitness challenge and I usually try it just to add a little extra oomph to my routines.
I have only been following it closely for a few months but since it has led to me moving a lot more each day (and feeling great about it!) I figure it’s worth the effort to pay attention to the challenges and to my responses.
This month, the challenge is to walk 5.4km per day for 14 days during September.
And since I am much better at doing something every day than every second day, I decided that I would aim for 14 days in a row and if I liked walking that much per day, I would continue for the rest of the month.
So far, I have met the challenge every day but some days have been quite tricky.
I get a lot of movement in my days but it’s a mix of walking and yoga and stretching and taekwondo and strength training and so on.
This challenge is just about walking. So walking around my house or running errands will count toward the 5.4km but other forms of exercise won’t.
(That other movement is good for me overall, of course, but it doesn’t meet the requirements of the challenge.)
I’ve tried getting Khalee to walk a bit further each day so I can get closer to the target distance but sometimes she just won’t. In fact, on Friday evening we walked for less than 1km because she decided she was done with being outdoors and it was time to get home out of it.
I’ve thought about trying to take her out for a walk twice a day but any time I’ve tried, she’s not so keen on it. (I swear, she looks like she is thinking, ‘Didn’t we do this already?’)
So, I’ve ended up walking a fair distance INSIDE my house just to meet the challenge. Indoor walking is boring AND I walk slower than I do outside – apparently I really need the forward movement to gain any momentum.
Ok, so I know what you’re thinking – Why don’t you walk WITHOUT the dog, Christine?
And the answer is – I never thought of it.
Most of the time, I walk for three reasons – to walk the dog, to hang out with friends, or to get somewhere.
And all of those walks are good for me but I had kind of filed away the fact that I could walk for the sake of walking/exercise.
I mean, I guess I *do* still do that but I generally combine it with Khalee’s daily walk so I had stopped thinking of it as something I could do separately.
Until I was running an errand on Monday morning and I saw someone strolling along the sidewalk without the benefit of a dog to show them where all the good smells are and it struck me, “OHHHH! I could do my extra walking OUTSIDE instead.”
Yes, I feel a bit foolish about missing the obvious there but you know how it is when you get into a thinking habit, right? You need something to prompt you to reframe your thoughts.
ANYWAY, right after lunch on Monday, I took a quick stroll – it was a lot easier to get out the door without having to get Khalee into her harness and all. It was good to get a little extra walking in, at my own speed, without worrying if Herself was going to get enough exercise or if I was going too fast or too slow for her in the moment.
I love walking with Khalee but walking a dog is a whole different project than walking alone. It’s a different kind of good.
I mean, I had to rely on my own nose to figure out where the good smells were but that was a small price to pay for a quick walk.
Meanwhile, I think Khalee was suspicious and I am pretty sure she gave me a dirty look when I returned.
For the record, I did take her for her own walk a bit later in the day.
And it was quite easy to get my walking distance done.
*You may know it as an Apple watch but thanks to a clever friend it will always be a wrist-spy to me.
I have rheumatoid arthritis. It’s an insidious, often agonizing, auto-immune disease that attacks your body’s joints and can make even simple movements like walking a deeply painful trial. Having RA means I have a disability.
Today, I see myself as part of the disability community. But for a long time, because RA isn’t necessarily visible to the casual observer, because those with the disease aren’t necessarily in a wheelchair or using a walker at all times, I wasn’t sure I belonged.
As a long-time professional working in the area of equity, inclusion and human rights, disability had always been a part of the dialogues that I was having, although it was a subject too often ignored in the EDI industrial complex. But because my own disability was often “invisible,” it took me some time and patient education from disability rights activists to understand that, yes, I am a part of that community.
Through my university years, I didn’t think too deeply about “keeping fit.” I walked or cycled everywhere while at McGill and Cambridge, and had occasional bouts of swimming lengths or taking aerobics classes.
Moving back to Canada, I kept up with walking and for nigh on 30 years, that has remained my primary form of exercise. I walked really fast all the time. People would comment on it at the campus in southern California where I worked for 16 years – I think because many people there didn’t use their body as their main form of locomotion.
Then I developed RA. The diagnosis came after the joints in my hands seized up, although that turned out to be just the canary in the coalmine. It was my feet that began to degenerate first. I kept up with my rapid pace in spite of increasing pain until my hallux (big toes) were so bent as to make it hard to get shoes to fit. I went for a double bunionectomy (never one to do things by halves) and after a six-month period of frustrating recovery, I could suddenly walk at my old pace.
But after a few years, the hallux on my right foot became so painful I was basically walking on the side of my foot. This exacerbated other RA symptoms – notably degenerative disc disease, particularly in the sacroiliac joints. So, I had the toe fused and went through another period of recovery – during which, I discovered later, I actually broke the toe, which lengthened the healing time.
Walking became easier once again, even as I worked through other RA-related issues necessitating a hysterectomy, as well as a move to infusions of biologic medications and an additional diagnosis of fibromyalgia (common with RA). In a six-month period in 2017 and 2018, I lived through two dramatic episodes – a bleeding ulcer resulting in the lowest hemoglobin levels the hospital had seen in someone still alive, followed by (and caused by the ulcers) peritonitis and emergency abdominal surgery.
Initially it became a victory just to be upright again, then I began to creep along the ward with my IV pole and the pump attached to a naso-gastric tube. I eventually progressed to a walker, and finally I was able to inch along unaided.
Over the years, I have become used to the comments: “But you look so good” or “You still seem to get around” etc. But when I was using an apparatus – a kneeling walker, walker or wheelchair – the difference was palpable. Then I could be treated as someone with a deficit – and that was how so many people automatically treat those with obvious disabilities. The old medical model versus social model of disability brought to life.
But having my disabilities made visible also made me realize that I had, in fact, been living with disabilities since I was a child. Decades ago, though, there was little discussion about “invisible,” “unseen” disabilities.
A single incident in high school made this very clear to me. I was diagnosed with migraines when I was 10. I discovered early on that I could usually cope when one came on by focusing intently until whatever needed doing was done and then I could collapse in a dark room. I started to develop migraine with aura which was frightening but gave the opportunity to take medication. One day in high school, I ignored the aura and, par for the course, the migraine developed 30 minutes later. Teachers and friends couldn’t understand why I needed to get home – “it’s just a headache,” “I get headaches all the time.” I was in no state to try and explain pain so severe that even when lying down, moving an eyelash felt like a knife going through my brain.
Thanks to my work in EDI, I was fortunate to be able to deepen my understanding about the disability movement from a superstar, Dr. Victoria Lewis. Vicki, a post-polio survivor, is a pioneer in theatre and disability, working since the 1980s in a variety of theatrical models—grassroots, community-based, regional not-for-profit, and television and film. Her developmental work reshaped the depiction of disability on the stage and nurtured a generation of disabled playwrights and actors, now at work throughout the US.
We spent hours discussing issues of disability, finagling ways to get disability into various parts of curriculum and into students’ minds. Vicki made sure I knew the ancestors who fought for rights and for space in the conversation. Those activist pioneers who rejected in the strongest terms the tropes and cliches about disability as a tragic experience or, perhaps worse, as the basis for “inspiration porn.”
“Disability only becomes a tragedy for me when society fails to provide the things we need to lead our lives––job opportunities or barrier-free buildings, for example.” said Judy Heumann. “It is not a tragedy to me that I’m living in a wheelchair.”
Australian comedian Stella Young puts it even more bluntly in one of her shows.
“Well, ladies and gentlemen, I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint you dramatically,” she said. “I am not here to inspire you. I am here to tell you that we have been lied to about disability. Yeah, we’ve been sold the lie that disability is a Bad Thing, capital B, capital T. It’s a bad thing, and to live with a disability makes you exceptional. It’s not a bad thing, and it doesn’t make you exceptional… And in the past few years, we’ve been able to propagate this lie even further via social media. You may have seen [slogans] like this one: ‘The only disability in life is a bad attitude.’ Or this one: ‘Your excuse is invalid.’ Indeed. Or this one: ‘Before you quit, try!’ These are just a couple of examples, but there are a lot of these images out there. You know, you might have seen the one, the little girl with no hands drawing a picture with a pencil held in her mouth. You might have seen a child running on carbon-fiber prosthetic legs. And these images, there are lots of them out there, they are what we call inspiration porn. And I use the term porn deliberately, because they objectify one group of people for the benefit of another group of people. So in this case, we’re objectifying disabled people for the benefit of non-disabled people. The purpose of these images is to inspire you, to motivate you, so that we can look at them and think, ‘Well, however bad my life is, it could be worse. I could be that person.'”
As I was becoming a more and more passionate advocate for disability issues, I was slowly accepting myself as a member of this broad and diverse community, a member with a number of privileges, but a member nonetheless. In moving to that understanding, I had to accept that I was never going to be whole again. Living my daily life was always going to be that much more difficult. Pain would be a constant nagging companion.
But I also learned that pain and disability did not mean having to shut myself off from simple pleasures, pleasures of the body as well as the mind. And I found that my mind and my body, even with the latter’s limitations, could work together.
In 2021, I got a dog. There were many reasons for this but the fact that it would force me to get out and walk was certainly one of them. Atlas, a 2.5-year-old Siberian Husky rescue, came into my life, and walking took on a sudden, and very insistent, urgency. Atlas is only happy when he walks at least 10km a day and has little patience for dilly-dallying (except on his part when investigating blades of grass, dog poo, fleeing creatures, etc.). Suddenly, I was a real walker – out on the Canal Trail every morning around 6am! Pain be damned!
I also discovered that this regularly scheduled walking gave me 90 minutes (on weekdays) and nearly three hours (on weekends) to think. To think about all sort of topics particularly as dawn breaks and the sun rises. I came across a New Yorker piece entitled “Why Walking Makes Us Think” and realized I was not alone in indulging in this wondrous pastime and there were physiological reasons behind it:
What is it about walking, in particular, that makes it so amenable to thinking and writing? The answer begins with changes to our chemistry. When we go for a walk, the heart pumps faster, circulating more blood and oxygen not just to the muscles but to all the organs—including the brain. Many experiments have shown that after or during exercise, even very mild exertion, people perform better on tests of memory and attention. Walking on a regular basis also promotes new connections between brain cells, staves off the usual withering of brain tissue that comes with age, increases the volume of the hippocampus (a brain region crucial for memory), and elevates levels of molecules that both stimulate the growth of new neurons and transmit messages between them.
I have found that my walking thinking has become more profound since the onset of another RA-related symptom, tinnitus. While people often describe a ringing in the ears, mine is a more unclassifiable buzzing. When it first became pronounced, I had a similar feeling to the claustrophobia I experience in confined spaces – what would it mean to never again experience silence? To avoid dealing with that, I started listening to the radio as I walked (yay for CBC) and their discussions would lead me down pathways of thought that took me away from my own concerns.
I “write” pieces as I walk (some of this was done that way), wishing I had the power to get messages out about the opportunities to work with Mother Earth if only we would heed advice. This is almost a meditative practice – “almost” because I have to remain alert to cyclists, other dogs and their owners, and animals Atlas will regard as prey. But that has become part of the meditation over this past two years.
Then, about two months ago, I realized I was finding it harder to block out the pain in my feet, heels and ankles. Objectively, this isn’t surprising – I have RA, most of my toes would now be called “hammer toes” and the hallux are both tilted away from the straight. To alleviate the pain, I was walking in that strange manner that exacerbates the pain in my sacroiliac joint, hips and knees.
Action was called for – a visit to the podiatrist followed a regular visit to my rheumatologist. And this down-to-earth woman gave me hope. She intuitively understood that the goal was to keep moving, preferably walking long distances. She was blunt in her assessment that my right foot with its fused hallux, other toes with tendons cut and arthritis-riddled ankle didn’t give a lot of scope but there was more hope for the left. She said,“Get shoes that address these issues and we can work to modify them, constantly wear whatever device works to keep the hallux toes away from the next toe, no more sandals without backs, and do these exercises daily.” She didn’t pretend there would be any return to my younger days with fully functional feet but she was clear there would be a future for walking within certain limitations.
I left the office feeling seen, heard and believed. I sat down and wrote this because I rarely feel hopeful and that day I did. And then the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that, when Atlas jumped on the bed to remind me it was time for his walk, that hope has persisted.
Leela MadhavaRau is the owner of LMR Human Rights and Equity Consulting. She has spent her working life in the field of equity and inclusion, working at universities in both Canada and the United States. Her academic background is in Social Anthropology, with a specific focus on the transmission of culture across time and space. Her degrees are from McGill and the University of Cambridge. She has lived a life between cultures and countries, one of the few multiracial children born in 1960’s London (UK). Leela immigrated with her family to Canada in the 1970’s when “Where are you from” was one of the most common questions. Her career has been one of working to create dialogue; wanting all of us to be able to maintain curiosity and be independent thinkers. This responsibility has been inculcated in her four children, now ages 23 through 30. She adopted her Siberian Husky, Atlas, in May 2021 and her life hasn’t been the same since!
I usually like to listen to podcasts or audiobooks* to add some extra fun when I take Khalee for a walk. On challenging days, when my walk would be filled with unhelpful rumination, focusing on a different narrative is really helpful.
However, me being me, I end up overthinking everything, including the fact that I listen to stuff while I walk.
Would it be better to walk quietly and just observe?
**Well, headphone, singular, I don’t use two headphones while walking so I can stay aware of my surroundings. I only use two when I am wearing my hatphones – they don’t block out noise the way my regular headphones do.
Note: I am reserving judgment on April though. Who knows what might come after March? Could be anything, really. It’s the very distant future, extremely Not Now.
Before we dive into super-real, and definitely happening right now, March, let’s roll back to the very distant and hazy past and see how the ancient month of February went. (ADHD time is a bizarre and fluid thing, no?)
My plan for the month was to extend my walks a little, to follow my meditation program, and to do at least one hip mobility exercise before bed.
I didn’t extend every walk but I extended as many as I could. We had some especially erratic weather in February – lots of snow storms, some warm(ish) temperatures and some ridiculously cold temperatures. The pathways and sidewalks and streets have varied from clear and easily-traveled to hellish landscapes of lumpy ice and deep patches of softer snow. Between temperatures that were too cold for the dog’s safety and terrain that was too uneven for my safety, it was tricky to be consistent with longer walks. But, that being said, when things were safe for me and for Khalee, we added a little extra time to our adventures.
I managed to meditate fairly regularly but I didn’t follow the program of daily meditation I had planned. BUT because my plan was short-term, it felt easier to keep course-correcting towards meditating daily and, as a result, I meditated more often than I have in the past. Also, I became more aware of when stress was making me breathe shallowly and took conscious, slow, ribcage-expanding breaths to help myself feel better. Those breaths aren’t meditation per se but it is a mindful style of breathing so I’m counting them as part of my meditation practice overall.
The hip mobility exercises are where I really shone in February. I didn’t use a tracker but since I stacked the exercises into my bedtime routine I was able to do them at least 20/28 evenings. I found a big difference in my hips and lower back as a result.
So, as I think back on the ancient history of February 2023 I am comfortable with declaring it a success. And I think I owe that success to two things: 1) only planning one month at a time 2) reflective journaling.
A Short Reflection on Reflective Fitness Journaling in February
I wrote in it for the first two Sundays but then I had two busy Sundays in a row. Logically, I should have moved my journaling plan to a different day but I didn’t.
Because the first two weeks were so helpful, I was in reflective mode even though I didn’t always write things in my journal. So, I was still getting some of the benefits even with a less structured version of the practice.
And being in reflective mode really helped me to be kinder to myself about how I approached my other practices and it guided me to spend a little extra time figuring out how to fit movement and meditation into my daily or weekly schedule.
My conclusion? Even imperfect reflection practices are extremely beneficial.
So, obviously I am going to keep up my reflective journaling plans but I am going to aim for 4 written reflections – one each Monday.
I’m keeping my evening hip mobility exercise but I am going to add in a shoulder mobility exercise every morning when I take my meds (or at least when I get my reminder to take my meds.)
I already get at least 20 minutes of movement every day but for (the rest of) March, I’m going to aim to do that movement before noon each day. Might be yoga, might be a walk with Khalee, might be strength training, but the goal is to have it happen earlier in the day.
And I’m going to keep working on that daily meditation practice – even if it is ‘just’ that mindful breathing I described above.
Today is my first real day of spring break. After 29 years of college teaching, those two words still make my heart beat a little faster. And yes, they also evoke images of the beach, with blue skies, warm sands and breaking waves. I’ve spent plenty of spring breaks at beaches: mostly in South Carolina, where I’m from, but also Puerto Rico, Cape Cod, the Maine coast, and Florida (both the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coasts).
This year, my spring break itinerary is simpler: I’m spending it in South Carolina with family. I’m helping my mother with some home and logistical tasks, hanging out with my sister and her kids and dogs, and seeing cousins, aunts and uncle. I’m definitely not complaining– this was exactly what I wanted after a much longer-seeming-than-usual February with a much-longer-than-usual job search in my department.
My activity plans are simpler, too. I’m here without my bike, kayak or other gear. But I do have my sneakers and a good pair of sunglasses. This (plus some sunscreen–it’s South Carolina, after all) is all I need to enact my plan: walking. I’ll be walking through the week. Just walking– on my own, with family, with dogs. Just writing this makes me feel more relaxed. “Hey, let’s get the dogs and take a walk!” “Sure, I’m coming with you!” “I’ll be back in an hour– I’m taking a walk by the river”. Ahhh… I like the sound of this.
There are a few state and local parks on my relaxed walking itinerary. I love Williamson Park in Darlington (where my mom and aunt Cathy live). It’s a cypress swamp with paths and bridges made and maintained by dedicated volunteers. If you like cypress swamps and are in the Columbia, SC area, I would also recommend Congaree National Park, probably the most low-key national park in the US. But it’s lovely, with paths and trails and bridges through a variety of ecosystems.
Another swampy park that’s fun to explore is Lee State Park, between my sister’s and my mother’s house. It’s a combo of wetland and hardwood forest, and there are horse paths and bike trails in addition to hiking ones. Lest we forget, there’s a county park– Lynches River-– where I used to play as a child. I’m taking my mother there this week for a boardwalk stroll through the river floodplain area.
My mother and I are taking a day trip to the beach to see my aunt Clare and uncle Billy. Billy and I have plans to go kayaking in Murrells Inlet this summer. He fishes and crabs there. But for now, it’s fine with me to walk on the beach and on the bridges through the marshes at Huntington Beach state park, my favorite in the state.
And of course, there are dogs to walk, teenagers to roust out of bed and exercise, and a sister to chat with while decompressing from the work day. I think that sounds pretty good.
I’ll report back next Sunday, with pictures!
What are your activity plans this week? Do you have elaborate plans? Are you keeping it simple? Lemme know.
I walk Khalee every day. Sometimes we take long walks and sometimes it is just a quick jaunt around the neighbourhood.
Sometimes, I want to take a longer walk and she votes no, turning toward home at every opportunity.
All of these walks feel good for my brain and for my body but they don’t exactly feel like exercise.
Khalee, you see, has two speeds 1) sedate amble (to maximize sniffing possibilities) and 2) all-out gallop (to maximize speed for her and danger for me. I think the danger thing is an accidental side-effect or at least I hope it is.)
The sedate amble, with lots of pauses to do a complete sniffvestigation, is her usual speed but she might break out the all-out gallop if the path is especially snowy or if she sees that my husband has arrived home while we were out.
I enjoy the amble but I find myself wishing I could speed up a bit (without going all-out gallop) and get a bit of a workout in but I don’t want to make her rush. She is, after all, a dog, and sniffing is how she explores the world. And, of course, these walks are supposed to be about her, not about me.
On top of my wish to get in a little exercise while I am already moving, I find that, despite my desire to let her amble along and despite my attempts to be mindful about my walk, my ADHD brain sometimes starts grumbling about being borrrrrrrrred.
During one of our walks last week, my brain got especially whiny and I decided it was time to take things up a notch.
I didn’t want to speed up and risk putting Khalee into turbo mode (and myself in peril since her four legs give her way better balance at all-out speed) so I decided to make my slow walk a bit harder, really using the muscles in my legs to pull myself forward with every step instead of just strolling along.
(The nature of my efforts made me think of an 80s or 90s aerobics instructor saying ‘Create resistance. Imagine you are moving through mud.’ so I also managed to make myself laugh a bit in the process.)
At another point in the walk, I tried moving my arms a bit more deliberately. And I also changed our route a little so I had two hills to climb instead of just one.
As a result of these tweaks, my brain stopped whining about being bored AND I felt like I had gotten just a bit more exercise into my day. And that was on top of the generally good feeling I get from knowing that I am taking good care of Khalee and myself by being outdoors for a walk, whether it feels like exercise or not.
Now, I’m not saying that I am going to do this on every walk but on those days when I am feeling a little restless, when our walk feels slower than usual, or when my schedule is so tight that our walk might be my only chance to exercise, I will definitely find ways to work harder without making Khalee rush through her sniffvestigations.
After all, I wouldn’t want her to miss any details. They could be crucial when her case gets to court. 😉
I’ve got say after a few icy months of walking in Ontario, I’m loving the clear surfaces here in Arizona. Yes, it’s been frosty at night and there are signs warning us of winter driving conditions (we laughed), by the time the sun comes up (and so far that’s been consistently the way everyday) any ice has melted.
I don’t know why the dry air helps with joint pain. It certainly seems to. And yes, I know a very large study published in the BMJ says it doesn’t. Maybe it’s just the bright yellow ball in the sky that’s beaming down at me that’s responsible for distracting me from pain, Whatever it is, my knees are very happy in Arizona.
It’s fun to be walking recreationally again. And that’s it really. This is a very short blog post. But I’ve shared so much knee sadness over the years, I felt like sharing some happy news and a smile.