Riding Again

Sunday, February 24, 2013 - by Dr. Tom Hammett

I suppose virtually every baby-boomer owned and regularly rode a bicycle.  I remember all through the 1950’s and 60’s riding my bike all over the neighborhood to see friends, to go to school, to the supermarket and to just ride for fun.  Those were the days of post depression, post WWII, and what we now refer to as the days of Camelot.  It was also the time pre-obese America.  Kids played hard and we burned up our calories.  Prosperity overtook us in the 1970’s and the days of exercise faded into driving everywhere we traveled and play time became TV time. 

The next 40 years for me were occupied with a career in teaching, church choirs and various community choruses.  There were occasional periods of moderate exercise, mostly walking or occasional rides on the old dusty bicycle.  There were a couple of years when I was able to commute 7 miles to work on my bicycle, and those were good times of regular exercise.  Then, 16 years ago we moved to the Big Ridge area of Chattanooga, and quickly accessible bike riding became difficult.  In order to ride we had to put on the bike rack, load the bikes and drive to a safe place to ride.  When exercise is inconvenient, if often disappears, and it did, except for some fairly regular walking our 3-mile trek around the neighborhood.  The pounds increased year by year.

One afternoon I went to Camp Vesper Point to pick up my daughter Emily who had attended the church camp for the week.  She had also contracted a bad case of poison ivy!  As we walked to the car to go home, Dr. Parkhurst, who was a member of our church walked toward the parking lot with us.  I pointed out Emily’s poison ivy rash, and asked what the best treatment was.  He whipped out his cell phone and called in a prescription for us which was ready by the time we drove back to town.  Making small talk, I said to the doctor that I should visit him sometime for a check up since I had only been to a doctor once since my high school days.  We set an appointment and I soon learned I had several symptoms and problems of a middle-aged man who had neglected his health for many years.  My cholesterol was high, my weight was probably 50 pounds more than it should be, and I was diabetic.  Needless to say, this young-at-heart guy was shocked that I was in less than excellent health, and had serious problems developing.

Fortunately, there were a couple of medications that assisted in getting the cholesterol and blood sugar levels more in line.  We began to eat better, and walked more.  Over the next few years I lost about 20 pounds and was in slightly better health, but I stretched the limits on eating poorly and being lazy in exercise.

Then came January, 2013.  I guess the Good Lord simply flipped the switch in my mind and heart and I began to exercise like I had not done in MANY years.  My wife and I gave each other nice, comfortable bike seats for Christmas (we call them the John Deere model) in an attempt to encourage bike riding once again.  While she was gone to Pennsylvania for a couple of weeks in January, I began riding several days per week.  I took my bike to a safe place from which to begin a street ride, and I would commute to my afternoon part-time job at WDYN Radio.  The first time I rode those 8 miles, the station manager said I should sit down because I looked exhausted!  I had stopped several times along the way to rest, catch my breath and have a drink of water.  With legs of rubber and undersized lung capacity, I was certainly in less than adequate physical condition.  I persevered, riding nearly every day during the week.  I expanded my horizon and began to ride to East Brainerd, about 16 miles from my starting point.  When I added those miles to the afternoon miles, my ride had grown to about 35 miles.  That amount of riding was now a significant workout for this 64-year old.  Lo, and behold, in these 7 weeks of 2013, I have strengthened my leg muscles profoundly, and although the longer rides are still taxing, I am able to handle them without fear of collapse.  I have already lost 7-8 pounds, and remarkably my blood sugar numbers have dropped 20-40 points! I’ve even had to buy a couple new pairs of pants with smaller wastes. I told the doctor I wanted to keep up this pace for another couple of months before I have another check up appointment, to allow the numbers to improve and solidify.  He seemed delighted at my commitment to the new exercise plan.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention my friend and neighbor’s help and encouragement.  Erik Hunt, owner of Owen Cyclery in Hixson fluffed up my 18-speed mountain bike, making it like new again.  Of course, with my bike being in such good riding condition, my wife wanted Erik to get her bike up to speed as well.  Simple things like the new seat, new hand-grips, lubing the chain and gears and that general magic touch they have at Owen Cyclery, the bikes are a joy to ride once again.  I added safety lights, a speedometer and a tinkling bell to scatter the pedestrian traffic on the Riverwalk.  The only thing missing on the bike now is a good motor…but I’m working on that!  (Getting in better shape, I mean).

Bottom line:  even a regular senior citizen with developing health risks and problems can turn things around 180-degrees!  The two keys seem to be eating right, and getting sufficient exercise. (As the kids would say, “Well, Duh!”)  We used to do these things without any effort, without even thinking about it.  Then life got in the way.  One must find an exercise he enjoys.  Mine is biking, and sometimes walking.  Biking is low-impact and can begin at the lowest level of physical taxation.  You can grow by the day in health improvements and strength.  I find the Chattanooga Riverwalk a wonderful place to ride.  The Chickamauga Battlefield is another, and we will explore the Industrial Park at Volkswagen and Amazon this weekend.

Let me encourage you to begin doing something toward better health.  My goal is to lose the remaining pounds that I need to lose, and to eventually eliminate any medication.  Eat a good diet, and exercise.  I have not given up any favorite foods.  I have reduced portions, and I pleasure ride to burn the calories.  Not a bad deal!  I drink more water and less other drinks.  It all adds up to less.  You can do it too.

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