Busily Doing Nothing #NewcastleCan

I’ve had a week off work this week, and I had such plans. I was going to take the kids for a day exploring Cragside, I was going to beat my Wednesday Walk record of four times round the stair circuit, I was generally going to move more, walk for miles and take advantage of my time off.

What is it they say about the best laid plans? 

First scupperance was my daughter’s leg injury. She’s recovering from an Achilles’ tendon problem and there was no way she could clamber around Cragside

Second scupperance was my own health. A migraine put paid to my Wednesday Walk, and a three days and counting IBS flare up meant I was happier curled up on the sofa with a hot water bottle than out and about. 

Third scupperance was my inability to get out of bed first thing. I slept in every morning. My alarm went off as usual and I switched it off, rolled over, and slept some more.

I’m trying not to beat myself up about my failure to do what I’d planned. 

It’s not that I’ve done nothing. Me and my son took my dogs to explore Wallington and Plessey Woods, had a dog free Quayside walk and explored Bessie Surtees house

Walking at Wallington

We went to Life Science Centre for the Lego exhibitions. I got my son to his hospital appointment, my daughter for her vaccinations and all of us to have our hair cut. 

Science at Life, in Lego

I cooked from scratch, met my step goal every day, and only went into the red zone in my food journal once. Despite the IBS I lost a pound (I’ve been static or gained weight other weeks of the Newcastle Can challenge when my IBS has flared up.)

So I didn’t do extra. So what? It doesn’t mean I’ve given up or backslid. I’m keeping up with the changes I’ve already made. Sometimes I’ll be able to push myself beyond that, and sometimes I’ll need to rest and recover, to curl up with a hot water bottle or to sleep in. 

It’s about knowing my limits and recognising what my body needs. This is comparatively new to me, until recently I’d had confidently said that what my body needs under any circumstance is chocolate or pizza or possibly cake. Food was my coping mechanism in stressful situations, my shield when things were bad and my first form of celebration when things were good. It’s a hard pattern to break, but I’m making progress.

I’m learning to recognise the difference between stressed and hungry. I’m learning to let my body rest when it’s tired rather than fuelling up on sugar or caffeine and forcing myself on. I’m learning that just because there is cake available does not mean I have to eat it!

I didn’t do the extra I’d planned, but I had a good week with my kids and I feel better for it. And maybe I’ll make up for it tomorrow at the Newcastle Can free activity day, when I hope to try some new organised exercise! 

Walking, with and without dogs. 

There’s much out there about the benefits of having a dog for increasing your health and fitness. Having a dog means you will walk more, and pet ownership has proven mental health benefits. Seeing all this sets me off a-pondering though. 

I am a dog person. I’ve always had pet dogs, both in the family home growing up and in my own home as soon as I had one. Currently we have two dogs. 



HoudiniDog
is getting elderly and slow now and no longer makes her trademark escape attempts. She’s your typical Heinz 57 mongrel. 



DaisyDog
is much younger, and is the first dog I’ve ever had that is clearly a specific breed. As my vet commented “She’s pretty much 100% typical greyhound. Except for those ears!”

My dogs are great for my physical and mental health. They get me out of the house in all weathers and they make me laugh frequently. I know, having owned several dogs before these two, that they will also make me cry in time, but I think the years before then will make it worth it. 

Here’s the thing though – in terms of exercise, physical health, I get more benefits when I walk without my dogs. Not to say I don’t have wonderful walks with my dogs, and I’m sure I’d do a lot less steps overall without them. But…

Walking alone I don’t have to stop every so often to allow the dogs to investigate smells/do their business/meet other dogs/get their leads untangled.


Walking alone I can get up to a good speed without the risk of a dog stopping suddenly at my feet and tripping me up.

Walking alone I can add stairs to my walks. Non dog owners might wonder why I can’t do that with dogs, anyone who’s tried to get one slow elderly dog and one young leaping dog up the same flight of stairs while on leads will understand! 

My Fitbit shows that I burn more calories and work at a higher level when I’m walking alone compared to when I’m walking with my dogs. 

Walk with dogs.

Walk without dogs. Note average heart rate.

There are places I can’t go with my dogs. Both were adopted as adults from local rescues, and we suspect HoudiniDog was not socialised as a puppy. She’s fine with dogs and humans, but any other animal from pigeons on up she hates. She barks and growls and tries to leap at them. This time of year especially we need to avoid any fields with sheep. And we can’t go over the Town Moor when there are cows. 

I’m used to dogs. I don’t mind picking up after them, even when they’ve eaten something particularly stinky. I know how much they cost, and prefer their company to the foreign holidays we could probably afford if we didn’t have them. I do my homework before rehoming them. 

What worries me is that people who aren’t used to dogs may be tempted to get one as a fitness aid. I know many people who’ve got and then had to give up dogs. They weren’t bad people, they had good intentions, but in the main they were people who got the dog not because they wanted a dog, but because they wanted the dog to be something. Company, a reason to get out of the house, a treat for the kids, a fitness aid… 

Having a dog is a bit like having a toddler. They’re dependent on you for food and cleaning, they’re enthusiastic about everything and they don’t mind doing the same things over and over. Having a cat, on the other hand, is a bit like having a teenager. They’ll turn up when there’s food, treat you with distain and just occasionally they’ll let their guard down and show you affection. 

But that’s only partially true. In fact a dog is exactly like a dog, and a cat is exactly like a cat. 


I’m not going to stop walking my dogs, but I no longer think of it as my main exercise. I wouldn’t have got to the level of fitness I’m at without them. And I love having them. But it’s not for everyone. So please don’t get a dog unless you want a dog, for the glorious creature that it is, smells, hair and mud included. 

There will be unexpected vet bills.

Be prepared for all the costs it entails – it may be insured for veterinary treatment but you still need the cash to cover an unexpected vets fee until the insurance pays out. Include food, kennels while you’re away, poop bags, everything in working out of you can afford it. 

Know that it will take time for it to get to know you, and for you to get to know it. Non-dog owners express horror when I’ve told them that in the first three months DaisyDog was with us I ended up at minor injuries twice with damage to my neck and shoulder!

“Why did you keep her after she’d injured you?” 

Well, because it wasn’t her fault. She’s a greyhound. Bred for centuries to chase anything small, fluffy and running away. Both times she saw a cat, she lunged, and as I was holding her lead when she lunged I took the full force of it. Now I know her body language. I can spot the second she sees something she might lunge at, and I’m ready for her. We needed to get to know each other. 

Try before you buy. There are many wonderful animal charities who would love you to volunteer as a dog walker, check out what’s local to you. Plus there are websites like borrow my doggy. If you’ve never owned a dog this is a great way to get to know what’s involved before you make the commitment.

Do your homework. Different breeds have different traits, you need a dog that suits you. Also consider rescuing. There are loads of dogs who’d really benefit from a second chance and a loving home. Check your local rescue centres, and talk to them about your circumstances. They’ll have a good understanding of what their dogs need. If you do want a puppy be careful where you get it from. The RSPCA are warning about puppy farmers selling poorly treated unhealthy pups.


Consider whether you’ll stop at one. It’s true what they say about dogs keeping each other entertained. At the moment my two are keeping each other entertained with a challenge to see who can make me scoop poop from the most dangerous/precarious place. HoudiniDog specialises in the middle of the road or Metro line, whereas DaisyDog has perfected the very top edge of a steep slope technique! 

Seriously though, DaisyDog was very nervous when we first got her, and having an existing, confident dog here helped her relax. She’d look to see how HoudiniDog reacted to loud noises, other dogs, people etc. and if Houdini was OK Daisy would be less worried.

I love dogs, and mine are definitely part of the family. I hope everyone who takes on a dog does so well prepared and gets much joy from it. 

And laughter.

True story!

Wednesday walk. #NewcastleCan

My son and I have a deal. If I walk at least 10,000 steps after dropping him off at youth club I can have a piece of cake before I pick him up. 

I’m trying to make my walks more strenuous. I don’t have a lot more time I could give to walking each week, so to try and get fitter I’m trying to make the walking I do have more impact. I suppose I could join a gym, and I know many people who have done so and love it, but for the moment I’m too nervous, too used to exercising alone.

So, how to add impact to my stepping?

I’m doing it with stairs and hills. I go along the Quayside, up one flight and down the next. I have a little circuit that I challenge myself with. It’s a flight of approximately 80 steps up, a little hill, a flight of 30 or so steps down, then along the flat to get my breath back before I go again. I’m up to four loops now, and this week for the first time I managed to run up the entire first flight. Definite improvement. By the fourth circuit my legs feel like jelly and I’m dependent on the handrails to reach the top. Maybe next week I’ll manage five times round.

Made it!
Would I get this view at a gym?
 
I’ve started throwing a little jogging into my walk. Very little, with long walks in between, and only on the flat, but it’s progress. I’m also still nervous about being seen exercising in public. I walk past the pubs.
Exposed by low tide.

The Gateshead side of the river has a fantastic walk. I do the hilly side heading out and then back along the flat of the riverside. There are hidden artworks and more daffodils than I’ve ever seen in one place before.

Is this enough to count as a host of golden daffodils?

As I head back towards town I hear, over the sound of traffic, river and birdsong, the unmistakable roar of a St James’ Park home crowd. Back over to the Newcastle side and I have so many stairs to choose from, Castle Stairs, Long Stairs, Dog Leap Stairs. I can’t run up them by now but I keep going.

I’ve done over 14,000 steps since I dropped my son off. Time for my reward! 

Worth every step!

Organised Exercise

After enjoying taking part in a recent #ThisGirlCan 5k I felt inspired to do more, so today my partner and I joined the “Hidden Gems” 7 mile hike at Gibside. After years only exercising behind closed doors, alone, this makes two organised public exercise events in under a month! That feels like progress.

I was slightly nervous about attending something advertised as a hike. Walking is one thing, hiking seemed a whole new level of exertion I might not be capable of. But I know Gibside quite well, and have been trying its hills out recently to make my walks more challenging, so I was confident I could make it to the top of any of them, although perhaps not quickly!

Column of Liberty pictured from under the old oak tree.

I needn’t have worried. The pace was steady but not too brisk and the regular pauses to hear about the history and landscape we were passing through were ample opportunity to catch my breath. I could have done it quicker if I’d been pushing myself, but I’d have missed a lot if I did. 

Our guide, David, clearly knew and loved Gibside. He shared stories, explained the historical evidence, and pointed out the geographical clues to the lands use over the years. The walk itself was a tour of the boundaries of the property, concentrating on carriageways and coal mines rather than the grand hall, chapel and other buildings. David brought to life the 1856 Ordinance Survey map we were following. It was fascinating how much of it was unchanged.

His real skill though was in making me look at a familiar landscape anew, spotting features I’d never noticed before and interpreting them so the land was telling its own history. Hidden among the trees we saw evidence of bell and drift mines, and the man made routes to them. In the trees above one of the main routes, which I’ve walked many times, a carved bat. And at the stables, which I’ve visited almost every time I’ve been to Gibside, he pointed out such an obvious quirk about the front and sides of the building I was amazed I’d never spotted it before. 

I should look up more often!

Most of the paths we followed I had been along before, however today I looked at them differently. I went along to exercise my body and it turned out I was getting a work out for my brain too. I’ll definitely be looking out for more history walks. 

These boots were made for walking #NewcastleCan

In 2014, hoping to get healthier, my partner and I signed up to September for Scope. This was the first time I’d really heard of the 10,000 steps a day target. It was a massive challenge, my legs ached, I struggled to find the time to fit such a huge number of steps in. 

Stepping out.

I decided to try to keep it going after the month, and have done so fairly consistently right up to now. The physical change in me has been considerable. My walking pace has sped up considerably. I no longer have to pause to catch my breath on hills. I can run up a flight of stairs. My legs no longer ache the day after walking 10,000 steps, in fact I routinely get around 12,000 a day and more on the days I push myself. What used to feel like a long way now feels like an average walk. Where I used to drive everywhere I now think nothing of walking if my destination is a half hour or so away.

There have been other benefits. I’ve explored my community and city and found fascinating places, routes, alleys, patches of nature, public art, staircases and so on that I didn’t know existed. When I can I walk in more rural settings, where I feel even more connected to nature. I’ve never learned to read maps, but am lucky enough that many public footpaths nearby are well signposted. I said in an earlier post that walking hard challenges me physically and soothes me mentally, and this sums up for me why I’ve been able to keep going with this. 

Exploring and making friends.

The times I haven’t kept it up have been when I’ve been unwell, either physically or mentally. And I need to be kind to myself and not beat myself up for missing my step target when I’m unwell. I wouldn’t expect myself to walk 10,000 steps with a migraine or stomach bug, so why do I think I should do it when my depression and anxiety is at its worst? I was pleased to read this article which reflects my feels about this more eloquently than I could.

I saw a physiotherapist recently. She told me increased walking is one of the most sustainable increases in exercise you can do. While people drop out of gym sessions, or can’t always get to the swimming pool etc, people who walk more are likely to keep walking. To anyone struggling to get more active I’d recommend giving it a go. 

A few tips to get started:

  • Many smartphones have built in pedometers which can give you a good idea of how many steps you’re already doing.
  • Start small. If you’re only doing 3,000 steps a day an increase to 5,000 will have significant benefits, you don’t need leap straight to 10,000.
  • Make sure you have supportive comfortable shoes. Definitely don’t try to walk 10,000 steps in brand new Dr Marten’s- I did once, never again!
  • Take the stairs not the lift. When I first started I needed to stop for a breather halfway up the stairs to my son’s youth club. Now I can run up them!
  • Walk short journeys, and build walking time into your planning.
  • If you sit down all day at work go for a walk in your breaks.
  • Walk with other people. Whether for companionship or competitiveness will depend on you, but I find it does make a difference when you’re not doing it alone!

This may all seem obvious, often the hardest thing is getting started. But it does make a difference. Good luck!