Walking (and other luxuries) – Part 1
Humans are a mobile species – we’re bipeds after all, and most of our ancestors came (willingly or otherwise) at some stage from far distant points on the globe. It seems to me that we tend to take walking for granted unless or until we’re unable to transport ourselves as nature intended. At least that was the case for me until MS threw a spanner in the works. I remember reading a book on fitness only 3 years or so ago (when I was playing tennis and walking home from the city a couple of days a week). It proclaimed unthinkingly – ie unthinkingly of anyone less-abled – that all one had to do was tell your brain what speed you wanted to walk at, and then just tune out – your body would take over. Essentially a “set-and-forget” argument, and you were away. And indeed that’s true for most of the population. With a bit of luck and a lot of work, I can hope that maybe that’ll be the case again for me one day in the future.
I certainly took walking for granted until MS came along and had me acquainting with the floor more often than I wanted. But that’s life. There are objectively a lot worse things that can and do happen to human beings. At the same time I feel there’s a great deal I can do now to improve the (comparatively fortunate) level of mobility that I do have. MS wasn’t on my game plan and I didn’t intend that, in an all too brief period of time, I’d only be able to walk short distances and even then with the help of a walking stick. I’ve cogitated on this and come to see where I’m currently at is a staging-post rather than a new paradigm. From here my mobility is either going to get worse/ or it’s going to get better/ or it’s going to stay the same. Logically they are the only 3 alternatives (short of mortality). Accordingly what am I going to do about it? I know I’m fortunate (and humble) that I’m not in a wheelchair. If I was, and if I felt that getting out of a wheelchair was not “do-able” for me, I guess I might turn my attention even further towards other things – such as what diet (in particular, and what exercise, sunlight etc) I could do to stop or reverse the downward progress of a downwardly-progressive disease. But fortunately I only rely on a walking stick / I am aware there’s nothing wrong with my muscles, and that it’s only the messages that get scrambled/ and I’ve studied enough to know and to fundamentally understand that I have the neural capability of doing something about building new conductive pathways, and to build some better or at least more tuned muscles, to help me get from A to B more effectively.
If ever I doubted I could rebuild walking competence (and confidence) there are many examples which, like the floor itself, can rise up quickly to hit me in the face. These include diet pioneer Roger Macdougall who was bedridden before starting his paleolithic diet and who had virtually no MS symptoms when he died decades later; fibre artist Lena, mentioned in an earlier blog who, using exercise, has been able to improve her walking to the extent of no longer relying on a cane; Norman Doidge’s recent seminal bestseller The Brain That Changes Itself; published research into walking generally; and a truly inspirational example of the benefits of targeted exercise – where Australian journalist Michael Forbes broke his neck in a bicycle accident two years ago and has been relearning to stand and walk ever since.
This “luxury of a walking” blog however has developed into a long one, and for that reason I have decided to split the topic into two parts. Part 2 will follow in the coming week, and in it I will deal with walking aids, devices, techniques and exercises – which build on the (I believe, established) proposition that neuroplasticity and exercise can, and does, allow the muscles (which as we know are unaffected by MS) to rebuild new and functional neural pathways … enabling those of us with impaired gait to walk normally again. I will leave you nevertheless for the moment with one simple – yet, trust me – brilliant innovation for rebuilding walking competence. The good people at my work (hello good people at my work) chipped in and bought for me two Austrian hiking poles … essentially ski poles. With these I am able to walk upright and with what might once have been called a proud bearing (rather than looking at my feet) and, unless MS-fatigued, can motor along quite fast. Unequivocally in doing so I’m actively rewiring my brain and overcoming my right leg’s recent desire to do a figure-8 jig along the way. I HIGHLY recommend such poles (hiking poles or trekking poles), of any reputable brand. Here’s a youtube video or two on their use and benefits. (I notice the first video specifically mentions MS.)
Part 2 will follow asap on aids, devices, techniques and exercises to rebuild the ability to walk.