Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Retirement Health – Speedy Methuselah

As my retirement draws closer, I’m wondering if my body is going to hold out until I finally stop working. It seems like each week, something else starts to ache, or stops functioning efficiently, if at all. For instance, my eye doctor suspects I’m developing glaucoma, which my mother had, putting me at risk. He has me seeing a specialist next week.

In the midst of my physical deterioration, however, I read something in Time magazine that gave me cause for celebration. The caption of the very short blurb read “The Speedy Live Longer.”

As you can imagine, this caught my attention. I adjusted my 3.25 magnifiers to be sure I could read the small print. (Note to self: after retirement, see if Time has a large print edition that I can subscribe to.) The item reported on a study of adults over 65. In other words, the sweet spot of RetirementSparks readership.

Participants who walked faster—and I quote here: “were 90% likelier to live at least 10 more years than those who walked at a pokier pace.” The theory is that how fast you walk indicates how well various body parts are functioning (heart, lungs, joints and muscles, to be specific.) The better those work, the longer you live.

This was wonderful news for me, because I’ve always been a fast walker. Though I don’t walk as much now as I should, I plan to walk more once I stop working. And though I certainly walk a bit more slowly now than I did five years ago, it’s still a relatively fast pace.

There are three very specific reasons why I’m so speedy. The first is that I’m short. I’ve always been short, and like many of you (I suspect), I’m getting a little shorter each year. In order to keep up with my walking partners over the years (and there’ve been quite a few), I had to take more steps to cover the same ground. That means I’ve always had to walk faster than they did.

The second reason is that I’m chronically late. That means that I’m always rushing to get wherever I’m going. This of course means that the portion of the trip that’s on foot requires an extremely brisk walk, and sometimes even a run. I’m so used to walking at this pace, that it rarely occurs to me that I might be able to walk more slowly on occasion.

The third has a lot to do with the fact that I worked in Manhattan for 20 years, for most of which I commuted in from New Jersey. That involved walking from the Port Authority bus terminal to Park and 50th (opposite the Waldorf) and back almost every day. Put that together with my chronic tardiness, and you can quickly figure out that I spent a lot of time jogging across town to catch my bus (or make it to a morning meeting.)

Walking fast on that route was essential for reasons beyond saving time. I passed through some dicey areas along the way—areas where people had been mugged on more than one occasion. I had decided that if I walked briskly and with purpose, the muggers would think: “Not a tourist. Probably will fight back. Not worth the trouble. I’m gonna look for an easier mark; plenty of them to be found.” You’d never find me gawking at store windows or staring up at the tops of the buildings I was passing, no matter how interesting the architecture.

As a side note, my co-workers used to tell me that the normal expression on my face was halfway between neutral and negative. I imagine that the impression I gave would-be muggers was that I was a woman on a mission, not someone to be trifled with.

Little did I know that my vertically challenged stature, my bad habits and my less-than-sociable demeanor would wind up adding ten years to my life. I need to be sure I don’t lose ground once I retire. That means finding walking partners who can keep up with me, preferably ones that don’t expect me to smile.

Don’t all rush to sign up at once…

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