I recently wrote a piece about unintended consequences – and this post is somewhat similar except I want to share a really positive unintended consequence of attaining and then sustaining a healthy weight for 30+ years – and I have my dog Sam to thank for revealing this unintended consequence in such a real light.
I walk Sam every day and, at least 5 days a week, that is a two mile walk at a 4 mph pace. Sam is a great work out partner as she (her full name is Samantha) is very insistent that we keep to this routine. She’s been known to head butt me repeatedly until I lace up my sneakers and it the road.
Speaking of the road, the road Sam and I walk is a dirt road covered in gravel. I live outside of town in the desert where dirt roads are the norm. We love our road as it isn’t exactly what you’d call well-traveled so Sam chasing after cars (she’s a rescue dog and has a penchant for doing so) isn’t too much an issue.
Most of the time.
The other day we were almost back. The mail lady had passed us, but she’s great because she always slows down as she already knows how much Sam would LOVE to chase after her vehicle. The mail lady and I sometimes stop to have a little chat if I meet up with her at the mail boxes. But today she’d already gotten back on the road. She was hardly moving and decided to stop to say hello.
As she rolled up Sam lunged with a vengeance. She literally pulled my feet right out from under me and I fell with equal vengeance onto my back and, in an effort not to hit my actual head (which ultimately failed), my neck and elbow took quite a hit as well. This wasn’t just a “little fall.” Depending on your age think John Belushi or Chris Farley pratfall on Saturday Night Live – except I wasn’t planning on taking that fall. And let me tell you that a desert dirt road is as hard as any sidewalk or asphalt street. If you threw some gravel onto the sidewalk and then jumped up and threw yourself to the ground with all your strength you’d have a similar experience – except it’s much worse when that fall comes right out of the blue.
Sam’s a lab, so she isn’t huge. Last time we took her to the vet she weighed 67 pounds. But most of those 67 pounds are pure muscle. So it wasn’t too hard for her to take down a 120 pound, 5 foot 2, 57-year-old woman. Actually, she didn’t even realize what she’d done as she was too busy trying to jump into the mail lady’s vehicle as she knew the mail lady was good for a belly rub.
To the mail lady’s amazement, I was able to get right back up. Sure, I took a moment to take stock as I hit so hard and it HURT I knew there was a chance I might have broken something. When I realized nothing was broken I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and got control of my dog who was still attempting to enter the mail lady’s vehicle for said belly rub.
So what was the unintended consequence of my fall? Actually the unintended consequence wasn’t about falling. It was about getting up.
For years and years (and years) I have exercised and been active. And, sure when I was young I gave lip service to the idea that I did so as I wanted to “be good” to my body. But, when I was a young woman maintaining my body’s ability to function wasn’t exactly high on my list of priorities. It wasn’t my meaningful why for exercising and living an active life. Truth be told, I wanted to “look good.” Remember, I was young and healthy and when you’re young and healthy you pretty much feel good simply because you’re young and healthy.
But the day after my fall sitting on the couch with a hot pad on my “I can hardly move it” neck I realized how much worse it could have been. I examined my road rash on my elbow and thought how lucky I was that I hadn’t broken it. However, then it occurred to me that perhaps luck shouldn’t get all the credit.
All those years of running (then walking after sciatica reared its ugly head), biking, crunches, hiking, and light weights had done their thing. My bones were strong because I have consistently engaged in weight bearing exercise for over 30 years. My core is strong from those ab exercises I hate but have managed to do at least a few times a week over the years. Not to mention making sure I eat healthy food filled with macro-nutrients (most of the time.)
All that talk about how “diet and exercise” could protect my body’s ability to function as I aged was actually true.
I have traveled far since my “gym rat” days. I no longer have the physique of an in-shape 30 year old. I have a bit of a meno-pot. When I lift weights those weights are 5 lb dumb bells, not the 15 pounders I hefted 20 years ago. I have a ton of energy but would be lying if I said I had as much energy as I did when I was 25 (those of us who say they do are very fortunate or don’t truly remember how much energy most of us have at 25.) I can’t run anymore but I can walk. I can bike. I can hike. I might not be able to use 15 pound weights when I lift – but by golly and I can lift 5 so that’s what I do.
The unintended consequence of that young woman wanting to “look good” all those years ago was to develop habits that allowed me to take a fall 30 years later that could have broken a hip or worse.
However the truth is you don’t have to have been living an active life and eating healthy diet for 30 years in order to help protect your body’s ability to function as you age – you can start doing them now. Whatever age you are. Whatever shape you’re in. Unless you have physical limitations that truly knock being active out of the picture now is the best time to begin – or, if you’re already exercising and eating healthy, now is the time to continue doing so.
So Sam did me a favor by knocking me down. I want to thank her for proving to me that my current meaningful why for continuing to eat well and stay active isn’t only meaningful to me, but practical:
“I am committed to meet and follow my daily “minimums” regarding my nutrition and exercise/activity. My objective is to stay strong as I age. Staying strong keeps me functional and being able to function at the highest and most optimal levels as I age allows me to do things I enjoy and improves the quality of my life. I refuse to watch life from the sidelines until they drag me to the bench kicking and screaming.”