By Brad Beckstrom
That was my blood pressure reading. My doctor came in to check it again. She came up with something higher. She said “You’re not going anywhere. We need you to lie down while we bring in a EKG machine.”
I had gotten some friendly warnings about my blood pressure before, but I was the proper weight (range) for my age and believed I was living a healthy lifestyle. But this blood pressure reading was off the charts for me, well, for anyone.
I was in the process of being unceremoniously bought out of a company I’d co-founded 10 years earlier. The stress of been building up for over a year and was showing up in all the usual places, poor sleep, weight gain, high blood pressure. At that point, I was lifting weights 2 to 3 times a week but I’d given up running years earlier due to some knee issues. I enjoyed mountain biking but rarely found the time to do it.
If you’ve ever lived through a major lawsuit or been forced out of something that you spent over a decade building, whether it be a marriage, a company, a career, or something that feels like all three, then you begin to discover a whole new level of stress. It’s different than work-related stress when you’re part of a team dealing with a difficult situation. In my case, it was personal and it was prolonged – 3 ½ years by the time it was all over.
Personal and Prolonged
It was the personal and the prolonged part that really impacted my health. The blood pressure warnings were in the early stages. I needed to do something immediately. In addition, who was going to provide life insurance for a guy with blood pressure like that? In what my former business partner later called a “strategic move,” all of my insurance had been canceled.
I needed a solution very quickly. It was a chilly fall day and I needed to just get outside and breathe. I walked down to the bike trail and just kept going. I only walked 2 miles but it was the most important walk I’d ever take.
At that point, I decided to do this walk every day. I’ve stuck to it. I can say I’ve even done it in a foot of snow. I’ve come up with different routes through the woods, and on the bike trail, to give my walk some variation. I set my goal at 7000 steps per day. At first, the key is not how far you go, anything over 10 minutes is beneficial, it’s that you do it consistently. Walking needs to become a daily habit to see long term results.
Chill the F-out
During this whole process, we got a black lab. The Infamous OTIS who’s become a reliable walking partner except on hot days when he likes to lie down in the shade. I think he’s trying to send me a message to slow down and chill the F-out. Otis knows how to chill better than most animals. He’s taught me how to be present and smell everything.
Otis also loves the woods, the deeper I can get into the green, the better.
Something to Keep You Moving
Over time, I started adding things to my walk. I found I could track my walk (time, distance, speed, altitude, routes) all overlaid on a map using a free iPhone app link to a GPS called MotionX. It works on a bike as well and you can share results.
I also use an UP Wristband to track all of my steps for the day, not just when I am out walking. One of the things I discovered using the wristband is that I was way too sedentary when working. I really needed to get up and move around more often. The UP wristband lets you compare your daily distance with friends and also tracks your sleep patterns.
One of the best things I’ve added to my walk is sound. Sure, it’s great to get out and just experience a beautiful day but on all the other not-so-beautiful days, I need something to keep me moving. This can be music but more often I been using Audible.com and Podcasts.
One Year Later
A year after my original wake-up call, I went back for a stress test with a cardiologist. He called my doctor while I was still on the treadmill and he said “ readings look great, I’m having trouble even getting his heart rate up.” The crazy thing was that all of the stress from the lawsuit was still going on but I was able to use that walk to turn things around both mentally and physically. It took a bit longer to get my blood pressure back to normal ranges 120/60 but I look at this as a long-term barometer on how I’m doing.
The message here is to make walking a habit. Make it part of a daily practice. If you’re not already a daily walker, start the habit slowly. 10 minutes to start, then build it up based on your comfort level and/or doctor’s advice. If you start with an hour, you’ll give up, your schedule will get in the way, then the walking habit will get chopped and then it will disappear.
As an old roommate of mine once said “I’m going to jog out to the stop sign at the end of the street and come back.” That’s a start.