Finding my way back to the walker’s high

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By Robert L. Domoguen

Mountain Light

Monday, July 28, 2014


I WOULD say exercise has been the life of me since I was a kid. Before grade school, my adventures in the mountains around home were exercises and fun.

We would race up the mountain with our wood slab glides, sit on it glide down so fast. That done, we run back up the mountain again, repeating the cycle several times.

It was a childhood game quite similar to snow gliding, I suppose. The only difference is that, instead of ice and standing on glides, we glide sitting on wood slabs that slide on grasses along the steep inclines of the mountainside. We did not feel tired, having fun doing those glides until the grasses disappear and we move on to another site to avoid gliding on dust.

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In the elementary grades until high school, we did not ride on vehicles but hiked some kilometre distances from home to school. On weekends, I remember walking distances to see relatives opposite the mountains, from where we lived. Most times, we go to the river and had fun swimming. Growing up was also an exertion in farm or home chores. It was an actively engaged life.

It has been about three decades and more since I had been actively sauntering in these mountains. I have forgotten how much I love the feel of fresh air in my lungs, mornings and noontimes. Back then, I would walk through mountains and feel ecstatic about the view from the top. I did not mind the feel of sweat and cold fog on the skin. I know the smell of oxygen inhaled amidst trees and thick mountain greeneries. Under the forest, one can clearly discern the exchange of carbon you emit, as the fresh air filled the lungs.

Being young, I could do almost anything with a slim, light and elastic body that does not tire easily.

My sedentary existence started after college and things started to change. The fat started accumulating until I was carrying a body weight beyond my height and body capacity on a daily basis.

At thirty, Dr. Charles Cheng, a friend since my college days worried about my body built. I worked in Manila after college and when I first visited him three years later, he could not believe what he was seeing. He was a staunch promoter of sport medicine and he wanted me to be actively engaged in any sports to burn calories. He wanted me to eat less fat, eat more fibrous foods and drink much water. He actually gave me a food chart and explained why I must follow it. I was young and Dr. Cheng’s concern was the least of my worries.

At forty, I soon realized that a little physical exertion finds me tired. I can trace the symptoms of diabetes coming out sometime in 2001. By 2005, when I saw Dr. Cheng, he suspected, I had diabetes type 2.

These past five years, walking has become a problem and I felt itchy all over my legs and back, then my vision weakened. When my father died of diabetes complications, it was when my wife could not take it anymore. She accompanied me to a specialist. With several test done, the specialist confirmed my diabetes has quite advanced, affecting the kidneys in some way, my vision and nerves.

I heard a lot from those close to me about my hard headedness in relation to my present physical condition. I can agree to that seeing that I ignored the symptoms of being diabetic, the same way I got used to the rain, strains and pains of a Spartan existence growing up. It was only when the sustained daily pain on my feet every time the feet strike the pavement would not go away that got me to seeing the doctor and listen.

The truth and nothing but the truth is that I actually understood I had the disease by reading and listening to those affected by it and as I related these to how I felt about my conditions. The problem was I tried to heal myself trying all kinds of herbs, over the counter alternative drugs, anything that could be of help. I presume I did well. The only problem was that I am not an expert and was not sure about my actions. The longer I did what I did I was convinced that it is wrong to experiment with your life and health, even if it was your own. Beside advises from my family and friends, I needed expert guidance. I am not a medical professional, after all.

In over five years, I did see three good doctors, recommended to me by family and friends. The change in doctors was not because anyone of them was better. It is just that I failed to grasp what this disease is all about, even if they told me everything about it. I simply got tired with the routine of having your urine and blood checked in the laboratory, and popping a number of costly medicines in a given schedules during day. It is only lately that I realized what diabetes is, being a lifestyle disease. It has something to do with genes, food, stress, body weight, and exercise, among others. Now that last phrase is revealing still. There are lots I have yet to learn about this disease.

Last week, my wife and I had a lengthy session with my doctor. Included in the discussion was the need for me to try walking as an exercise even if I felt terrible and did not really like what I was hearing. On second thought, I realized it might be something else since, I would not just go back to the same regimen of blood and urine tests and medicines. I can yet walk and endure, see what it brings.

Going back to a time of physical fitness and freedom as in the days of my youth is hard. I do not know how, it is lost in time, but I figured I would just walk into it.

I struggle with the searing pain that rushed all over me on my first day of continuous walking, just like how it was the rest of the days for over a year now. I limped, arms hanging loose I wanted out, to sit down but kept walking and gave up after walking 1000 meters. I did 1,500 meters at the BPI compound and Burnham Park in over two hours and felt the high and endorphins kicked in, except that the pain overwhelmed me still.

Talking with my son about my new venture, he got interested and suggested we can go walking together next time. Initially, we considered walking three kilometres following the route he ran when he joined the Milo marathon in his elementary grades. I thought of doing five kilometres of leisurely walk.

Last Sunday, with him beside me, we accomplished 10,000 meters walking around Burnham Park, onwards to Baguio General Hospital, Military Cut-Off, South Drive and jogging around Teachers Camp. We concluded the activity with a hike from Teachers Camp to Session Road. I feel great with the accomplishment, even as we plotted another route to take next week.

Meantime, I am finding my way back to the walkers high. I will keep at it until that happens. You will know soon enough, a promise that may yet give hope to diabetics and those similarly situated with my experience. Something is so freeing with walking and breathing the unimpeded clean air getting into our lungs.

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on July 29, 2014.

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