wow…Colorado is a very fit state

According to the Washington Post less than 20% of adults are obese in Colorado. Doesn’t that make you wonder “What is their secret?”

Source: Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index

Hold on to your chair because I think I might know the answer, it’s just a guess but…it’s got to be the mountains. About sixty percent of Colorado’s land surface is covered by mountains. Think about it, if you live in a mountain town chances are wherever you go there is always bound to be an uphill. This means it takes twice as long and much more energy to walk, cycle, jog etc. anywhere. Add to that the fact that if you visit a lot of trails (which everyone seems to do) you must carry a lot with you, in a pack of some sort. Things like water, snacks, TP, rain gear etc. add more weight to the walk which of course requires more energy.

On a recent visit I was humbled by the young folks. They are out and about scurrying like ants on a hill. They trotted past me when I was finding balance points on boulders, they carried backpacks the size of small campers while fording streams, they bike – everywhere, effortlessly, and it always seems to be uphill.

I never saw any health clubs or fitness centers or overweight people for that matter.

Hiking in the mountain highlands, I quickly learned you earn ‘it’. ‘It’ being your drinks of water, your snacks, your evening hot tub and of course a fine meal before bed. You also earn ‘it’ because more trails, sidewalks and roads are up than down. There is really no other way. Gone is lazy, because once you commit to the activity, you’re in “it”.

They are not wimpy in Colorado, their trails between the peaks are not smoothly paved like here at home in Chicago. Most of the trails are in a natural state, made up of leftover glacial rock, boulders, streams, mud and gravel. There are switchbacks and steep downhills. It doesn’t matter if you are walking, riding an animal, in a vehicle, cycling or 4 wheeling. Your heart gets pounding.

There is a reason why the Olympians train in Colorado and everyone else is fit no matter their age, they live in Colorado because they can say to the rest of us…


Love this.... it's so us!! Is hiking your gym? Camping? Just being outdoors?


Back to work.

I set my mind and my watch to “engage in physical activity directed toward the production or accomplishment of something”.  I would work today on getting my heart rate up. (And work it was.)

I decided to walk 3 minutes with my heart rate at or above 135, then walk 3 minutes without paying attention to my heart rate. This would be counted as one interval and I would try to complete three.

I found it very hard to get my heart rate up even walking at a furious pace. A furious pace meant walking so fast and hard, I felt I looked comical or ridiculous. I could not sustain the silly walk and I could not get my heart rate up so…I jogged. I jogged about one half of a city block and finally my heart rate went to 137, dropping down to a walk, I noticed I had to really pump my arms and take super fast, baby steps to get my heart rate to stay up in the zone so I could get through the first interval.

For the second interval, I needed to jog again; but by the third interval, I finally had some flow in my movement as well as an idea of how fast I needed to pump my arms and move my legs in order to keep my heart rate up. Also, by the third set I was sweating (bonus), and my quads and calf muscles were screaming. Upon completion of the whole workout, I think I felt an endorphin or two, which is something I can’t say that I regularly feel after my 4 mile walks – I feel good, but it’s not quite the same as  the “joggers high” feeling I used to get after a jog workout. This made me happy – I felt like I’d accomplished something, and… I had sweat production, I had worked.

When I got home and checked the watch, these were my results:  I reset the limits to 160-135. My average heart rate was 135 bpm, which was at 70% (YAY). I had no time above the zone, 14:10 minutes in the zone, and 10:50 minutes below the zone. My workout should have lasted for 18 minutes, but since I had trouble getting into a pace to elevate my heart, my results are not all neat and tidy. I know I wanted at least 9 minutes in the zone and I got that, so mission accomplished.

I now need to decide what to do with this information; what are my exact goals for walking and how will I structure my workout plan? With a  need to keep my heart in shape and the  motivation to try and stave off cancer (since I feel am genetically predisposed), I will probably structure a mix of long endurance walks and short intense walks for my health and fitness as well as “unscripted, once in awhile, for no purpose other than soul enhancing” walks for my mental and social health.

Thank you Gretchen Reynolds for your book The First 20 Minutes I have to say it challenged me to think about how I was walking and also made me consider what I wanted from walking. Who knew walking could be work!

  1. "If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you."—  Fred Devito  Pinterest!


“Torture the data, and it will confess to anything”    – Ronald Coase  (Economics, Nobel prize laureate)

After a four mile walk which took me about an hour, I went home to check the data on my watch. The first thing I noticed was I had neglected to reset the limits on the watch. The limits on the watch were previously set at 160 – 80 beats per minute. 160 being the high end of the THR zone and 60 being the low end. The watch would be silent if my heart rate was in between these numbers – which it was, for my whole walk. The watch beeps (thank goodness) if you are working too hard -heart rate is over 160 bpm, or (annoyingly) not working hard enough – under 80 bpm. The first thing I will do for my next walk – reset the limits to 160-135 bpm. This will allow the watch to “remind” me when my heart rate is not high enough.

Scrolling through the recall mode, my average heart rate during the workout was 123 bpm, with no time over or under the zone.  According to the THR chart, I was working at only 55% of my maximum heart rate.

Throughout my walk, I checked my beats – I have to admit I was walking at a pretty good clip while maintaining a conversation with a friend. It was very hard to consciously stay in the 120 bpm range , sometimes I pushed it up around 127 bpm, but this was only after about 30 or 40 minutes of walking briskly. Physical Educators are always concerned with something called perceived exertion. When I asked my students to tell me how hard they were working I seriously wanted to know how they felt during their workout. Using the Borg scale, a person can gauge how hard they are exercising. Here is the scale courtesy of The Nutrition Source, Harvard School of Public Health and the link to their site.

How you might describe your exertion Borg rating of your exertion Examples
(for most adults <65 years old)
None  6 Reading a book, watching television
Very, very light  7 to 8 Tying shoes
Very light  9 to 10 Chores like folding clothes that seem to take little effort
Fairly light 11 to 12 Walking through the grocery store or other activities that require some effort but not enough to speed up your breathing
Somewhat hard 13 to 14 Brisk walking or other activities that require moderate effort and speed your heart rate and breathing but don’t make you out of breath
Hard 15 to 16 Bicycling, swimming, or other activities that take vigorous effort and get the heart pounding and make breathing very fast
Very hard 17 to 18 The highest level of activity you can sustain
Very, very hard 19 to 20 A finishing kick in a race or other burst of activity that you can’t maintain for long

Source: Borg G.A. Psychophysical bases of perceived exertion. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 1982; 14:377-381.

If you were to ask me about my perceived exertionI would probably think I was in the 13 -14 range, but realistically I was around the 11-12 range. Even though the duration (60 minutes) of the exercise was increasing my heart rate, there was not enough intensity for aerobic conditioning.

OK, back to the drawing board… I’m out for another walk to get some more data to torture!



“The dog that trots about finds a bone”  Golda Meir

Even though fitness, wellness, health and athletic performance are and have always been my interest, every once in awhile I find myself in need of some motivation – especially with walking.

For the greater part of my life, I have chased, caught, thrown, hit, bumped and kicked all sorts of balls, birds (as in shuttlecocks) and discs. I have completed all kinds of aerobic and anaerobic fitness challenges which have included some form of jogging, running, stepping, swimming, climbing, hiking, cycling, skiing, shoeing, lifting and I have always used sport and individual competitions and new activities to keep myself from getting bored or burnt out. There have been times when I have lost myself so much in chasing down a tennis ball, I know I must have been a labrador retriever in a previous life! Participating in sports has always, always made me happy, and training for them – never a chore.

I now find myself at a point in time where a life of all of this incredible action packed activity has left me with body complaint.  A term I’ve coined to describe a body unwilling to participate in any more sports or intense training without waking up the next morning with a nagging skeletal hangover. I suppose this could also be arthritis. The tricky thing about arthritis is – it is a fine line between not enough and too much exercise. Trying to keep myself motivated with walking and to find the right balance, I’ve recently come across a very good book which has given me some daily incentives. The book is The First 20 Minutes by Gretchen Reynolds.

first 20 minutes copy

In the book, Gretchen shares some of the latest research in exercise science to stimulate the reader to begin moving – for the brain, for longevity and for overall health. For example in the first chapter, she describes the value of  high intensity interval training (HIIT) to be done in the first 20 minutes. Even walking can be done with intensity in mind. By walking three minutes at an extremely brisk pace, followed by three minutes of slower striding with repetitions of that set for five or six times, one should be able to get the heart rate elevated to about 70 percent of the maximum heart rate. A study is cited in the book which directly links walking and the incidence of colon cancer among women. “Women who walked briskly for five – six hours per week were much less likely to develop the disease then those who strolled for thirty minutes per week.” Since my Mom died prematurely at 48 years old of colon cancer, the results of this study grabbed my attention.

I think I’ve found my bone -I mean motivation – to set a goal in which I explore walking with intervals.