Monday, March 26, 2012

Walking Toward a Longer, Healthier Life

Walking is riding a wave of popularity with many health-conscious people. Its pleasures, utility, and health-giving qualities are many. And, unlike the jarring effects of long distance jogging, its risks are minimal. Walking, combined with exercises designed to increase flexibility and strength, gives your body the exercise it needs to improve and maintain good health.

Some of the facts researchers have found include:

Longer, healthier life. The Institute on Aerobics Research in Dallas show that people who walk vigorously for 30 to 60 minutes each day live significantly longer, healthier lives. When done briskly and regularly, walking lowers the resting heart rate, reduces blood pressure, boosts levels of the heart-healthy HDL cholesterol, increases the efficiency of the heart and lungs, and burns calories.

Better mental health. Exercise stimulates the short-term release of endorphins, chemicals that promote the perception of "feeling good," resulting in noticeable improvement with a sense of well being, better family relations, less loneliness, better moods, and greater self-confidence.

Increased stamina. If you don't exercise after the age of 25, your ability to do aerobic activities will drop by 10 percent every 10 years. If you have a sedentary lifestyle, your body is slowly deteriorating as it ages. But this trend can be reversed by beginning an exercise program.

Begin now to gradually and systematically regain your stamina. Experts say that it takes a month of reconditioning to make up for each year of physical inactivity. Begin by walking at a comfortable pace for 20 minutes four or five times a week. If that proves too tiring, or too easy, adjust your time accordingly.

Restored energy. When you feel tired, resting isn't always the answer to restoring energy. The body has a nearly infinite amount of energy, but you need to exercise regularly and eat properly to make that happen. There's no magic pill for it, you have to work your heart, lungs, and muscles to increase energy levels. It’s true: Energy begets energy.

Keeping off unwanted pounds. A study at Stanford Center for Research in Disease Prevention found that among people who had dieted, the group who went back to eating more but exercised gained back less weight than the group who ate less but didn't exercise. Exercise is crucial to a weight control program.

Brisk walking helps burn excess calories. According to the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, increasing walking speed does not burn significantly more calories per mile, but a more vigorous walking pace will produce more dramatic conditioning effects. Muscles in better shape burn more calories, even at rest, than muscles in poor shape. In addition, after a dynamic workout, metabolism levels remain elevated above normal which results in additional calories burned.

Disease prevention. In addition to the benefits of reducing blood pressure, attaining healthy cholesterol levels, and increasing the efficiency of heart and lungs, walking significantly shields against other diseases:

– Osteoporosis. Strength-building exercise, such as walking, is critical in maintaining or increasing calcium levels in the bones of postmenopausal women. Bone, like muscle, is living tissue. When bones are exposed to the stress of physical activity, they become stronger, just as muscles get stronger when demands are placed on them.

– Intestine and colon disorders. Evidence indicates that the intestine and colon muscles are improved and remain in better shape when other body muscles are exercised.

– Blood clots. As we age, the protective protein, TPA, which dissolves stroke and heart attack causing blood clots, drops. Regular exercise can increase TPA levels. In addition, the levels of fibrinogen, another protein that creates the clots, are reduced.

--Respiratory infections. Extra lung power, enhanced by regular exercise, keeps minor respiratory infections from turning into pneumonia.

--Diabetes. A study done by the Harvard School of Public Health and published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that being overweight and obese was the single most important risk factor that predicted who would develop Type 2 diabetes. During a 16-year follow-up period, study results showed that regular exercise--at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week--and an improved diet low in fat and high in fiber significantly helped to avoid Type 2 diabetes.

--Colds and flu. A study at Loma Linda University in California reports that people who walked briskly for 45 minutes a day, five times a week, experienced half as many days with cold and flu symptoms as sedentary people in the study.

Although walking shares many benefits of other sports, it offers many advantages. Almost anyone can do it, though it is best to consult your physician before beginning any exercise program. Because walking is virtually injury-free, it has the lowest drop-out rate of any form of exercise.

You need very little equipment other than sturdy shoes. Walking is inexpensive compared to health club fees. You can set your own schedule and not depend on others' timetable. Weather is no obstacle; simply dress accordingly. Walking is not a seasonal activity. You can exercise in temperatures that might rule out other activities. You can walk almost anywhere--sidewalk, street, road, trail, park, field, or even shopping mall. If you walk in the dark, it’s a good idea to wear reflective clothing.

Join the many who are walking toward a healthier, longer, and more satisfying life. Each step you take will improve the quality of your life.

Now, where are my walking shoes?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Book Review: What Lies West

Carolina (Lina) Clark has to get out of town, and fast. Recently widowed, her husband had drunk or gambled away the meager assets in their little general store. If she leaves immediately, she can stay ahead of the creditors and salvage a few personal items. She manages to team up with two unlikely characters, strangers, who intend to travel west from Westport, Missouri. One, a young woman, Josephine, is a high-class madam. The other, a young man, Henry, dreams of joining the cavalry out West. They agree to pool their resources, join a wagon train, and team up as “family.”

The way west is rugged, full of hardships and danger. The three work together, meeting challenges with strength that surpasses their own expectations. They reach an Army post and Henry stays. When Josephine and Lina reach the diggings of the California Gold Rush, they see a future for themselves. The two woman manage to eke out a living among the rough miners and grimy surroundings.

When an opportunity to work in San Francisco is offered, the two women find themselves in comparative luxury; Josephine doing what she does best, and Lina working in a warehouse under the supervision of a cold, calculating boss, Edward Haarten. It doesn’t take long for Lina to prove herself worthy of important responsibilities. Haarten has more than a good accountant in mind and makes advances in that direction. Lina flees on a ramshackle cargo vessel that’s bound for a tiny Puget Sound settlement in Washington Territory.

Starting over yet again is harder with fewer opportunities in this small community, but Lina again finds her niche with a growing family-owned lumber company. In addition to finding a way to make a living, she also finds her heart’s dream in Robert Marr, the head of the family-owned company. Lina’s past catches up to her when Haarten’s long reach from San Francisco threatens to destroy not only her life, but that of the struggling lumber company.

What Lies West by LaDene Morton is a well-written historical novel with believable characters and realistic settings. It’s a large volume, but its 618 pages kept me captivated throughout. The novel was a well-deserved WILLA Finalist and is available as a trade paperback or ebook. To learn more about the author, visit

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Snow Geese Are Back!

They’re back! Thousands of them! Each winter our Northwest Washington community celebrates the arrival of snow geese. The migratory birds have flown about 3,000 miles from Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean, north of Siberia.

Here on Camano Island, and across the Skagit delta, several thousand snow geese migrate annually. At least 35,000 of the waterfowl winter in Washington and in the Frazier Valley near Vancouver, B.C. before returning to Wrangel to lay their eggs.

The large birds, up to 33 inches tall, are usually grayish white with pink bills and feet, and have wingspans of four and a half feet. When traveling distances, they often fly in formation, forming huge V’s in the skies. While feeding, they’ll sometimes fly up in noisy flocks, as shown in the above picture my husband Bruce took.

Huge groups can be seen feeding in farm fields on winter wheat, cover crops, or in pastures. The birds are very vocal and often can be heard more than a mile away.

In spring, as the days grow longer, snow geese migrate back to their Arctic tundra breeding areas. Courtship and pairing take place in their second year, although breeding does not usually start until the third year. Snow geese mate for life. The females are strongly philopatric, meaning they will return to the place they hatched to breed. The birds nest in colonies. The female selects a nest site and builds a shallow depression lined with plant material. The nests may be reused from year to year.

Females incubate three to four eggs for 22 to 25 days while the male guards the nest.. The goslings, born covered with down with eyes open, can scramble out of the nest within hours of hatching and have the ability to swim and forage for food. Both parents protect the young birds from predators such as Arctic fox, snowy owls, hawks and eagles. Parents stay with their young through the first winter. Families travel together on both the southbound and northbound migrations, separating only after they return to the Arctic breeding grounds.

We enjoy watching these beautiful birds during the winter, then say farewell to them in the spring as they fly north in V formations, calling to one another. Or who knows? They may be bidding us farewell. Honk!