|Melanie took this on our hike last Thursday|
My numbers are all good, putting me in the lowest percentile for heart disease. I have my blood drawn at the first of every year to check it all out. I am also fortunate to have all my medical records on line, so I just took a look at the numbers to reassure myself that I remember correctly: total cholesterol 215, "good" HDL cholesterol 79, "bad" LDL 124, and triglycerides 74. That gives me a risk ratio of 0.4. Anything under 1 is considered low risk. Average is 1-3. I asked my doctor if I should be concerned because the total cholesterol number is over 200, but he reassured me that the number is only high because my "good" cholesterol is much higher than normal, and gives me added protection. I don't come by these numbers naturally; I take a statin drug daily to lower it, and exercise raises the good numbers and diet helps to keep my triglycerides low.
I didn't start out loving the exercise and well remember the day in my thirties when I stood on the front porch, looked down at my brand-new running shoes, and stepped out into the street to start jogging. I had to do something, because back then my numbers were simply awful, and I was concerned. I was already taking a statin, but it wasn't helping much, and I knew that exercise could end up being my friend.
But within a week, I had developed shin splits, a painful condition that makes every step hurt, with my legs complaining constantly. I went back to the running store where I had purchased the shoes, and learned that I would probably need orthotics because of the tendency in my gait to pronation. After having gone to a specialist and gotten those custom made for my feet, I began again, more slowly this time, but I was pleased to find that I could actually run without pain. "Running" is a euphemism for the slow jog that I managed to maintain, but I was then excited about the way I felt after some time out on the streets, feeling fantastic with the blood coursing through my body and making me feel wonderful. I was hooked.
Within a year I was entering 10K races, not to compete but because I learned pretty quickly that having a goal helped me continue and increase my mileage. For many years I was running an average of ten to fifteen miles every week. But every time I tried to train for a longer run, I would get injured, so I kept myself in check by learning to listen to my body. What a concept!
Although I didn't know it at the time, my sister Norma Jean had also taken up running. I was in Colorado and she was in Michigan, but we were both jogging for much the same reason: our family history and a desire to stay healthy. When I visited her, we would run together, although she was leaner and faster than me. We had taken up the sport independently from each other but truly enjoyed our shared passion. She slowed down for me in those days. I still have to work to keep up with her longer legs, although these days we walk instead of run.
I stopped running in 2000, after the skydiving accident that shattered my pelvis and gave me some nerve damage down my right leg. The two pins that reside in my back don't give me any trouble, but I don't have full circulation in that leg. I lost a partial artery, and so I must keep moving in order to build collateral circulation and keep myself in good shape. I began looking for other ways to exercise and joined a gym and learned about step classes. They are led by an instructor who uses intricate patterns as you step up and down to get your heart rate up. I still, to this day, do a step class at the Y, and I'd do more if they had good instructors, but they have become less popular and Zumba is the current trend.
I have become a "social exerciser" and realize that the camaraderie of working out with fellow enthusiasts causes me to do more than I would alone. I have one good hike a week on Thursday with the Senior Trailblazers, and a fast walk every Saturday with the ladies, with the gym routine filling out the rest of the week. And this past year I've been taking two yoga classes a week, and now I am hooked on that. I simply love the way it makes my aging body feel, as I balance (not well) and turn and twist as I begin to regain the flexibility I once long ago took for granted.
As I age, I am realizing that I have choices to make every single day that contribute to whether or not I am happy in this body, the only one I have. The only life I have, as far as I know anyway. You give up things and take up new things as the years go by. I had a good long run as a skydiver, twenty-five years to be exact, but at 72 it was finally time to let it go. I will always have the wonderful memories of flying in the air with my friends, making patterns and then opening my beautiful parachute and flying it to the ground with (hopefully) a graceful landing. Skydiving changed my life; I met my life partner through the sport, and I've even got a world record that still stands today.
Next Sunday I will be sitting in my sister's spare room writing this post, since the day after tomorrow I will make the journey from the uppermost northwest corner of the country down to Florida. I will leave just in time to experience the first flakes of snow, due to come tomorrow, and will instead enjoy the sunshine and warmth of Florida. My timing couldn't have been better. At least that's the way it looks at this moment. I'll swim in the mornings with Norma Jean and walk with her afterwards. And more than anything, I'll enjoy being with her for a whole week, which will be over way too soon.
The uncharted territory of old age is not feeling too bad right now. I'll be glad to be with my sister and am even looking forward to the adventure of travel. Time to start packing my bags and remembering to bring all my devices. As far as clothes, it will be shorts and t-shirts and sandals! They are calling me from my closet.
Until next week, I wish you, my dear readers, the best of weeks, and I'll be checking in from Norma Jean's home next time. Please remember at this time of year to take care of yourself in whatever fashion that works for you. The nights are long and the days short, but we can still enjoy nature every single day. I am appreciating our connection and sending you my love.