I’m on my daily walk and my mind is wandering. I’m remembering Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel “Love in the Time of Cholera” in which “cholera” suggests both the actual plague that is ravaging the novel’s countryside setting as well as the violence of the civil war. The main character also suffers from a kind of love sickness as he longs for his Fermina. I’m loving my walk and my thoughts; so what in the world does this have to do with exercise? In a lot of ways we can draw parallels.
“These are extraordinary, unprecedented times.” We hear this everyday – on the news, TV, radio, from our smart speaker. So let’s go with that and stop trying to make everything like it was “before.” Life will never be the same. However there remain many constants in our lives and one of them is the need to exercise.
Walking daily has been a sanity saver for many and a great way to improve or maintain your overall health. Just 30 minutes everyday can increase cardiovascular fitness, strengthen bones, reduce excess body fat and boost endurance. According to the Mayo Clinic, a brisk daily 30 minute walk can prevent or manage various conditions such as heart disease, hypertension and Type 2 diabetes. Regular walking also improves your mood, balance and coordination. Walking is a better choice for those with knee, ankle and back problems and also for folks who are overweight. It is lower impact and can be done for longer periods of time. In our attempt to find some positive aspects of the pandemic, my husband and I have noticed an increased number of family groups out walking and biking. We try to walk everywhere in Oak Ridge, including our own neighborhood. The Greenways, the Civic Center walking track, the Arboretum and along Melton Hill Drive and Haw Ridge are all great walking areas. Each time we walk, we see individuals, couples and families exercising while engaged with each other and the great outdoors.
Cycling is another exercise compatible with pandemic constraints. You don’t need to be Tour de France level at all, especially on the multi-use Greenways throughout the city. Cycling even just once a week, promotes healthy weight management. It increases leg and core strength and like walking prevents and manages many medical conditions. On the Greenways you don’t need to worry about automobile traffic. Just yield to pedestrians! Some of my friends employ the use of a device called a trainer that turns any bike into a stationary bike. When the weather is too cold for them, they watch a 30 minute TV show while biking. What a great idea.
Many of us lifetime swimmers are skipping the locker room and cautiously lap swimming again. Swimming keeps your heart rate up while the water lowers the impact stress on your body. Lap swimming builds endurance and strength, tones muscles and helps maintain a healthy weight. No matter what stroke you swim, you’re using most of your muscle groups to move your body through the water. Swimming can be a safe exercise option for people with arthritis, sports injury, or other issues that preclude high-impact exercise. Daily swimming can add years to your life. AARP reported research that showed in a study of more than 40,000 males ages 20-90 who were followed for 32 years, swimmers were 50% less likely to die during the study period than were walkers or runners. From Franklin D. Roosevelt to Fred Rogers and Nicole Kidman, many well-known people in stressful jobs choose lap swimming as a lifetime activity. Once Fred Rogers became a household word and started traveling to give talks and make guest appearances, he always made having access to a lap pool part of his contract. Brains of walkers and swimmers produce theta waves which are associated with a relaxed state of mind as opposed to alpha waves which are associated with arousal and beta waves which are associated with depression.
And so like in the books, “War and Peace,” “The Agony and the Ecstasy” and “Angels and Demons” we are experiencing profound, troubling times. We are living with a dichotomy of epic proportions; every issue involved with the COVID-19 pandemic versus our desire for health and well being. Let’s choose to exercise! Get moving! Make one good thing happen today. Exercise regularly for better physical and mental health.
Liz Henry is an RN at the Free Medical Clinic of Oak Ridge and Diabetes Educator. She teaches Aqua Fitness and is a life long swimmer.