I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Uncharted territory

Melanie took this on our hike last Thursday
December and another birthday. I had to leave behind 73 and take a look at 74, on my way to... who knows? How does anybody predict the future, the days of our lives on this wonderful and precious planet? I am now older by five years than my mother, and twelve years older than my father when he died at 62.  Heart disease took them both, as well as my son, who died at forty. So there is a very good reason for me to exercise as much as I do, walking my way to heart health.

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.


Linda Reeder said...

it's just getting light now at 8:00 this wet Sunday morning. I have not been able to tell if the rain has let up or not. The weather station on the roof registers 38 degrees. I'd like to get out of going for our walk today, but since we skipped Friday and Saturday, and since you are so darned inspiring, I guess I'd better get us going and get out there.
The rest of the day we'll spend putting up the tree and decorating it. Big job, lovely results.
Safe travels, DJan. Have a great time with your sister.

Linda said...

DJan I loved reading this history of your passion for exercise. I didn't realize you had such a heavy history of heart disease. I'm walking everyday but can't yet say that I love it but you give me hope.

Far Side of Fifty said...

You are doing great for 74! Travel safely and take some extra Vitamin C and I hope the airplane germs don't get you! :)

Elephant's Child said...

Hugs. Enjoy your visit. Which is a silly statement, because you will.

Marie Smith said...

Have fun! Relax, laugh lots! Safe travels!

Gigi said...

These Sunday posts of yours are so inspiring and thought provoking - I love them so.

I know you will enjoy your time in Florida with Norma Jean. Have a safe trip.


Anonymous said...

Your lab scores are better than mine. I really should do something to improve my scores, especially triglycerides, but the trouble is that I am so lazy. Have a good trip, DJan.

Carole said...

Sending love right back to you DJan.

The love of exercise is a gift that I too, have been given. I love how it makes my brain feel. And the social camaraderie makes it all much more fun.

Have a wonderful time visiting your sister, and enjoying the warmth and sunshine. I look forward to hearing about your adventures.

Red said...

I wish they'd simplify cholesterol readings. I know I'm good to go but I just have to go by the doctor's info. I don't take statins. There is now some research as to the importance of cholesterol levels and what influence they have on heart attacks.
Enjoy your trip.

The Furry Gnome said...

Your life is sounding gteat! Talk about aging well. I'm trying to get back to my hour of cardio a day minimum, and really enjoy the walking. Feeling better now than in several years. And we're getting our first serious snow tonight too.

Rita said...

In my family even in poor health we soldier on forever, it seems. My dad was 94 when he was killed in the car accident, my mom is 87 and living alone in Florida, all my grandparents lived to be at least in their late 80s and one lived to be 104. But no matter what...time marches on so quickly that it is surprising to find yourself old when you feel the same inside. You and your sister have done so well for yourselves and have a lot in common. Have a safe trip and enjoy every moment!! :) :)

Arkansas Patti said...

I love how you have taken over your destiny. I am a firm believer that we have a huge power over our health--both good and bad. You are definitely doing all the right things and have adjusted when necessary.
Have a safe and wonderful trip to Florida and a marvelous visit with your sister. How cool that you share the same passion for exercise.

C-ingspots said...

You are certainly encouraging - and to be commended! Fantastic that you keep up with so many different kinds of exercise, and do it so regularly. I cannot even compare. I sit way too much at my job and think that is my biggest downfall at this time. I try to get up numerous times and walk around, stretch and work a few muscles. Some days when it's not too wet, I still try to walk at noon with the dogs. Chores in the evenings and sometimes something enjoyable on the weekends. Compared to you, I am sorely lacking. Your numbers and overall health are very good!

So happy you're making this trip to see your sister. Just what the doctor ordered!!

Tabor said...

Thanks for the pep talk. I go through weeks of good exercise and then allow life to interrupt and the days go by before I realize I haven't exercised in weeks. I am a bad one for that.

John's Island said...

DJan, It seems like every time I read a new post on Eye I sit here and reflect on what a great outlook you have on life. I feel like I'm lucky to have found your blog. You have a combination of experience, ability to relate to it in a positive manner, and an unusually good ability to put it all in words for the rest of us. Thank you for being such a good friend in the blogosphere. I always appreciate the comments you leave for me. I wish you a safe journey and a fun time with Norma Jean. Have a great cup of coffee sitting out in the sunshine in Florida! Take good care and have a great trip!

Glenda Beall said...

DJan, I so admire you for your discipline to exercise as you do. I am not so good. But with severe back and leg and foot pain, I do as much as I can.
Have a great time in Florida with your sister. I just spent two weeks with mine, but it was a trip I had to take to get away from the fires down the road from me.
I am back home now, but did enjoy being with my sister.

Rhapsody Phoenix said...

Blessings and happy birthday, may you have many more with Heath, strength and endurance

Bill said...

Great post. It's inspiring to read stories like yours. I'm now over 9 years older than my father was when he had his first heart attack, and over 7 years older than he was when he had his fatal attack. In fact, I've lived longer than any man in my father's line for the previous 4 generations (all dying from heart attacks). And I'm only 56. Like you I stay active and mindful of my health. I try to avoid stress and I eat a healthy diet. I hope and expect to be as healthy and active as you are when I cross 70!

Thanks for sharing your story. Enjoy your time in the Florida warmth!