Ageing successfully

Clara’s journey

A chance birthday present from our son last December set me off on a mini-challenge, to begin on January 1st and finish on New Year’s Eve. Traditionally rash promises made after a surfeit of greedy food and idle days don’t tend to last the course. Would a commitment to clock up 10,000 steps every day for a year go the same way for me?

My reasons for doing this were two-fold. I was keen to keep my blood pressure under control but also I wanted to see just how disciplined I could be over a long period. Why would I choose to set myself a challenge, which could so easily end in frustration and failure? How would I manage through the winter months? Would it become so important to me that it became a nuisance to everyone else, some might say obsessive? How would I sustain my interest over 365 days? All unknowns and the only way to find out was to give it a go.

January 1st ……

The little lane past our house is about 6,000 steps, 45 minutes brisk walking, easy peasy. Very feasible on days when I simply have to make up my quota of steps. How would I feel in six months time, when I could predict every hole in the road and damaged piece of fencing, only time would tell. The lane, a short cut to the nearest settlement of any size, meanders past the farm to finish at a small T-junction signaling the end of the village and an ideal place to stop. Though single track, it is not without its hazards – horses, dogs, cyclists, walkers, the postman, the Shropshire Owl Man and the odd delivery van all vieing for space with farm vehicles of every shape and size. You may even pass a stalwart doing the Lands End to John O’Groats cycle challenge as we’re on one of the recommended routes.

Being prepared

As the weeks slipped by and my steps mounted, a couple of matters came to light. The first was that I was very badly equipped for this venture. If it poured with rain, I’d come home soaked through and pretty miserable. A trip to Charlie’s store, stocking everything from potato sacks to fishermen’s wellies soon sorted me out. An ample, ill-fitting and totally unglamorous army-green top and trousers did the job, though it didn’t do much for my street cred.

The second was that I felt I needed a friend to trudge with me. Whilst Radio 4 on my Walkman (sons do love a present with a battery) was doing a great job keeping me entertained, I still needed a bit more encouragement to get me going on damp, wintry days. The solution was literally waiting just round the corner in the guise of our neighbour’s elderly Welsh springer spaniel – Bailey. He was always game for a walk, any time of day and in any weather. He would be my Mr. Motivator. I had even entertained the thought that it might be easier to let him wear my Activ8rlives Buddy Step Counter! Bailey became a reliable and enthusiastic companion from then on and, boy, did I miss him when the poor old chap developed a nasty cyst on his neck and was out of action for a few days.

June comes and goes

On the dashboard of the Activ8rlives tracking App, I’m still in the green section for achieving 10,000 steps a day since January 1st, with several rewards of different colours to my name and feeling pretty pleased with myself. Yippee – only another 180 or so days to go with a holiday to look forward to in September.

Holidays, for us, tend to be fairly active with lots of walking and cycling if the terrain is good and flat. Our short break in early spring in Istanbul certainly sent my Buddy into overdrive. We would spend all day wandering up and down streets, along the waterfront, through the bazaars, visiting monuments, in and out of mosques (and on and off with the shoes).

A very different long weekend on the shores of Lake Buttermere also piled on the miles. We even found ourselves walking once round the lake in torrential rain followed, the next day with the walk in reverse in glorious sunshine. It was like doing two totally different walks.

By August, we were beginning to make plans for our long trek camping through France and Spain in our elderly VW camper to a little Portuguese retreat in the hills. I was exercised briefly by the seemingly trivial, but to my mind crucial, question of how I would record my steps whilst incommunicado for nearly three weeks. A quick email to the support team at Activ8rlives (aka Kevo123) put my mind at rest. Initially he suggested borrowing a POGO that uploads the Activ8rlives USB devices to a mobile phone but that didn’t come off the production line in time for our European adventure. He then kindly loaned me an Activ8rlives Bluetooth BuddyBand, which was for me far too technical, so that was returned. I was left with option 3 – to record steps each night in a notebook and send them to Kevo123 on our return to the UK. Problem solved.

The downside of taking a 70s vehicle across two countries and over the Pyrenees is, of course, your average speed which hovers around 50 m.p.h. Aiming to drive 200-250 miles each day as well as doing 10,000 steps prompted some slightly eccentric behaviour. I would find myself doing several circuits of the ‘aires’, the picnic areas on French motorways, or going up and down every aisle of the supermarkets en route. But it did mean that by the time we reached our campsite in late afternoon, I’d have already clocked up a few thousand steps. Once there it was plain sailing – a canal cycle, a beach walk, an amble through a sleepy village or, on one occasion, a wander round what was once a bullring and now a campsite quickly made up the deficit. Before bed and first thing in the morning trips to washrooms (and nobody wants to camp immediately next to them), to the water taps, the recycling areas, the drying room would add a few more steps.

Exploring by alternative means

Swimming doesn’t do much for your Buddy apart from break it forever but cycling is ok, though you do have to cycle quite a way to make much of an impact. Cycling the Kennet and Avon canal with friends was good fun, about 90 miles in three days. This wasn’t too arduous but sufficient to keep me and my Buddy happy, particularly as some of the route was very overgrown and we found ourselves walking and pushing the bikes rather than cycling. Canals do have the great advantage of being flat.

We’re lucky as we live not far from the Montgomery and Llangollen canals, which are easy cycling and an enjoyable alternative to walking. Prior to getting my Buddy, most of my exercise came from cycling. Our village, if you can call it that, consists of a couple of farms, about twenty houses, a post box and that’s it. Anything you need is a 10 mile round trip and certainly not worth taking the car. Very roughly, two miles on your bike is worth around 1,000 steps bearing in mind variables such as how many times you get on and off to walk up the hills. The same distance on foot is probably nearer 4,000 steps.

Over the year, I’ve found myself getting to know some surprising places rather well. The duty free gift shops at Heathrow, supermarket aisles, various station platforms, the cross channel ferries, the outfields at Edgbaston and Worcester have all been well and truly paced. I know Shoreham Beach pretty well too. Our son-in-law managed to lose his wedding ring, but despite my enthusiastic scouring of the area, nothing was found. Not really surprising as it is a pebble beach!

Near misses

There have been a few days when it was touch and go as to whether I’d reach my target. February 14 was one such day, sadly not because of over-zealous Valentine celebrations but because it was the day of (my dear friend?) Jill’s funeral. Driving home after a long, emotional day the heavens opened, visibility was poor and we couldn’t wait to be home. I toyed with venturing out knowing that I had a good excuse not to but surely I couldn’t give up only six weeks into the New Year. It was dark, bucketing down with rain and unusually windy. We have no street lights so when it’s dark, it’s really dark. Thinking the ‘main’ road might be less spooky I set off only to find a telegraph pole had come down with the wires strewn across the road so back to the spooky lane, clutching my torch. While thinking back over the day, I was brought rudely back into the present when the lane in front of me was lit up. A Stephen King moment. I looked round to find a coach just behind me. I dare say the driver was equally shocked to find this bedraggled soul on such an inhospitable night. He explained that he was new to the job and was taking a hen party to a nearby outdoor centre. Poor young man looked pretty sorry for himself, the more so when I told him he hadn’t a chance of getting through and would have to reverse a few hundred metres the way he’d come. As I left he handed me a packet of peanuts, not as a parting gift, but because one of his party had a nut allergy. Jill would have been most amused.

Warranted attentions

My Buddy has attracted attention from various sources – people who peer rather hard at my ‘necklace’, grandchildren who love to read the figures (you’d be surprised how many millions of steps I’ve clocked up on occasions), our local butcher who likes to check that I’m still on track and friends who marvel at the thought that anyone can even contemplate doing 10,000 steps a day. A couple of them have even got straight on to Amazon to buy one for themselves.

Winter has arrived, the clocks go back and the steps are holding up. Bailey seems immortal and as enthusiastic a companion as you could ever wish for. He’s one walker who positively revels in the wet, muddy roads. We still pass the usual gang of hardy folk on our gallop down the road. He may be fourteen, but Bailey has no understanding of a quiet amble. It’s all systems go for him particularly if there happens to be a pheasant just minding his own business close to the hedge. The poor creature’s peace is suddenly shattered when it has to make an ungainly entrance into the air, out of reach of one very excited dog. Better luck next time Bailey.

Laid low

Six weeks to go and my husband and I are both laid low with a stubborn cough which persists in keeping us awake and feeling pretty zonked the next day. I’m living dangerously now, only just managing to keep in the green. Surely I won’t be pipped at the post at this late stage? Just hope the snow waits till the New Year as our roads are ungritted and can be pretty lethal for weeks on end. Bailey now sports a snazzy quilted jacket to keep out the winter chill. I’m very glad I’m not responsible for washing it.

The 21st December proves to be my last difficult day. The event is a family celebration in Kent starting with a steam train ride with Santa thrown in for good measure followed by a pub meal. The obstacle is the five hour car journey each way to get to Tunbridge Wells. I bravely get up really early to get a few thousand steps under my belt before we start. I amaze myself how motivating this thing round my neck has become. I’d never normally be walking the streets on a miserable, dark December morning and probably never will again. By the end of the day I find I’m still short of the mark and midnight is fast approaching. Our only option is to stop at one of the motorway service stations and make up my 2,000 steps as nonchalantly as I can. Goodness knows what the poor soul in charge of checking the CCTV cameras must be thinking. But at least it’s warm and I manage to just get into the green. Phew!

Christmas Day, a beautiful, crisp winter morning and a welcome walk along the canal, before a prolonged spell of overeating and lethargy. 10,000 steps and then I can relax for the rest of the day. We needed a photo to mark the day and, on cue, a lone cygnet appears gliding serenely along the canal. Frustratingly the camera has other plans and chooses that moment to run out of battery. Hope the Buddy doesn’t follow suit. With the Queen’s Christmas message comes a smattering of snow and the beginning of some glorious winter weather. My last few days couldn’t be easier under blue skies and a gentle sun. Gorgeous walking weather.

I’ve made it! The first serious New Year’s Resolution I’ve ever seen to the bitter end.

But one mystery remains, how does the Buddy work?

We think you set a brilliant example of what the NHS term “successful ageing” so we don’t regard this as OCD, but maybe you can be a little more gentle on yourself now that you know that you can do it. Just an observation, not a suggestion. But do keep writing these narratives. It brought a huge smile to our face when we read and reread it.