By Shirley

As Spring started showing its first signs of life, and my body and mind started to wake up, I became aware of a great change that happened to me during this Winter. Like a caterpillar that snuggles inside its cocoon to transform into a beautiful butterfly, I too snuggled during the Winter to wake up this Spring as a… definitely not a butterfly… The image revealed in my mirror reminds me of a scene in Walt Disney’s Fantasia, where surprisingly agile hippopotamus ballerinas dance around a Greek temple in their little tutus. It seems as if during Winter I transformed into a… ballerina?! Looking into my magic mirror, I realize that I might need to work on reversing the spell Winter has cast on me. Maybe, I might do well with a healthier lifestyle. But where should I start from? Some people, at this point, would have plunged, head first, into a diet and exercise routine. Were I capable of such hasty and swift behavior I probably wouldn’t be in this predicament. As it is, I start slowly and carefully, going through endless negotiations with my body, which categorically refuses to abide by my wishes. No, I’m not joking! My mind doesn’t rule my body, or at least not my conscious mind. My body has a mind of its own and a strong personality to boot. I have to trick it to do things my way, otherwise it will rebel against me. Case in point: I made a decision that something had to be done about my “ballerina” curves, even though what that something might be had not yet been determined. I had vaguely remembered that some years ago, I had had success by working some gentle yoga poses first thing in the morning, going for a walk or a bicycle ride after breakfast, and then lifting weights three times a week. Apparently, just the memory of those days was enough to evoke a response from my body. The next day, I woke-up in extreme pain. It seems that during the night I had slept in a weird position that had hurt my shoulder and arm. The result of which is that I can’t, for the moment, either do yoga or lift weights.

Many, many years ago, I read about a study that pointed to a co-relation between the automation of modern life and the decline of physical activity. Getting up to change the channel of your TV or manually winding up or down the windows in your car, are just two examples of brief activities that when taken all together make a lot of difference in the sum of our daily activity. Nowadays, with our dependence on electronic devices and the internet, we find out, at the end of the day, that we had been sitting and staring at a screen for several hours. Studies have already linked sitting for long periods of time with the development of heart disease. And let’s not even discuss the surge of attention deficit disorder cases apparently resulted from our screen time habits.

In 2018, the US government updated its physical activity guidelines, so that now it recommends: “Any physical activity, no matter how brief, including walking up stairs or from the car to the office, provides health benefits, according to the new guidelines, and counts toward exercise goals.”

Since my arm is still trying to heal, and I am still trying to figure out what is happening during the night, I figured I should start easy and try to create opportunities to integrate physical activity in my daily life.

Not too long ago, my husband and I found out that if we go for a morning walk and another “digestive” walk after dinner, we could easily reach the recommended 10,000 steps a day. We are not walking particularly fast or even thinking that it might count as exercise. They are enjoyable walks when we can discuss the daily news or what happened to us that day. Since my husband comes from a bird-watching family, sometimes our walks become more Nature oriented. We very often stop mid-way on our walks to watch a bird or enjoy a flower in bloom. Birdwatching is just one way we can add purpose to our walks.

A friend of mine took her girl, some years ago, for a class that educated the public on frog life and the sounds (croaks) of each different species of frogs in this area. Afterwards they were asked to help count frog species (by sound) during their walks. It is a way that ecological and Nature conservancy groups have to estimate how animals, in this case the population of frogs, are doing in this area. We have also discussed picking up trash that is blown towards the little brook that runs through our sub-division, although we haven’t done it yet.

The idea of picking trash while walking, reminds me of an article I read some years ago in the New Yorker. David Sedaris, an American author who writes humorous and quirky stories about his life and family, started using a Fitbit (exercise tracker) and in his quest for fitness started picking up trash by the side of the road during his walks. As he recounts, he ended up walking an average of 25 miles a day and was recognized by the town where he lives with a trash pick-up truck named after him. True story! (check out the references) I’m inspired by his story but doubt I would devote that much time and effort every day.

I try gathering other ideas that might add a little extra activity in my life. Unfortunately, I don’t live close enough to stores or business that I could walk or bike to. I do use the stairs instead of the elevator, but since I don’t usually find myself in tall buildings, it is not a kind of activity I could count on as daily exercise. I do return the grocery cart back to the store or, at least, to the shopping cart station every time I go to the store. I have realized that Melissa, our hiking group leader, always parks her car far from our starting point to give herself that many more steps. And, of course, talking about hiking groups, International Neighbors has more than one wonderful hiking group. You exercise in a park, talking and making friends – lovely combination! In fact, southeast Michigan offers several beautiful parks where you can go for walks or bike rides.

Going for walks with a canine friend is also a smart way to integrate activity in your daily life. You exercise not only yourself, but your companion too. Moreover, I’ve observed that taking a dog for a walk often attracts people, so you might be able to make new friends. Of course, you might already know that I am a cat person, so that we don’t take a dog for a walk, we take our cats. Now, walking a cat is vastly different from walking a dog. You can lead a dog, but you cannot lead a cat. If there is any exercise involved in walking a cat, that would be an exercise of my patience. We take the cats outside, on a leash, and they go about their business of chewing some grass, smelling everything, stretching themselves on the cement floor or laying down under a bush to watch the world go by. They rarely do any walk that one could consider an exercise. To include my cat in a more active pastime, I purchased a cart that you can push while walking or you can latch into the back of your bike. I can take one of my cats inside the cart to one of our neighborhood’s park like areas. There, I can walk my cat on a leash for a while, as she enjoys spying on geese or the occasional squirrel. We always have a little fight until she is convinced to go back in the cart, but she is always glad to be inside it every time a car passes us by.

I’m not very confident on the bike, especially since I broke my ankle during a bike ride (the fault of a Luna moth). I bike around our neighborhood and have occasionally taken our bikes to a park. But if I were confident in my bike riding skills, I would ride along the Huron River towards Dexter and then go visit one of the little lakes around there. I know my husband used to do that, but, I guess thanks to me, he hasn’t done it for some time. I know that Lucy, from the knitting group, will do just that, with her husband, during the Summer. There are also biking groups/clubs that organize just such trips. I always think it would be lovely to participate in one, especially in Fall when the leaves turn colors and the Huron River “valley” turns a mix of orange and red.

And what should I do if it is raining outside? Well, if the weather doesn’t cooperate, I can always turn on the music and dance around my house in my pink tutu.


P.S.: It occurred to me that some of you might be wondering why we don’t let our cats roam free outdoors. There are two reasons: It is estimated that the average indoor cat will live around 17 years, while an outdoor cat average life span is between 2 and 5 years. The second reason is that a study published in 2013, estimated that cats kill between 1.4 billion and 3.7 billion birds, and between 6.9 billion and 20.7 billion mammals in the continental US each year.

P.P.S.: David Sedaris is one of my favorite authors, but be advised that he writes for aa adult audience.


References:

Reynolds, Gretchen. Why sitting maybe bad for your heart. New York Times; December 20, 2017. www.nytimes.com

Reynolds, Gretchen. Very brief workouts count toward 150-minute goal, new guidelines say. November 14, 2018. www.nytimes.com

Sedaris, David. Stepping out. New Yorker; June 30, 2014. www.newyorker.com

Dowling, Tim. David Sedaris? Who? Oh, you mean the local litter-picker. The Guardian; July 31, 2014. www.theguardian.com

Watson, Stephanie. Should you have an indoor cat or an outdoor cat? https://pets.webmd.com

Raasch, Chuck. Cats kill up to 3.7B birds annually. USA today; Jan 30, 2013. www.usatoday.com