Take the Long Way ‘Round

Wieland’s old friend, George Calef, in the Yukon in 2008. George was then in his mid-60s, and strolled around with a heavy pack like it was nothing. Those twigs you see sticking out of the pack were firewood to fuel our little ‘ZZ’ stove.

Physical fitness made, well, easier at least

by Terry Wieland

We’ve posted here several pieces on physical fitness for various types of hunting, with specialized exercises to allow you to draw a bow, or crawl under barbed wire, all of which is great and certainly valuable.

Throughout writing those, however, I was nagged by a line I remember from childhood—and childhood was not yesterday.  The line was in a booklet published by the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) outlining a fitness program for pilots.  For those who are interested, the program was called 5BX (for “five best exercises.”)  There was a subsequent one specifically for women, called 10BX.  These came out in the 1950s, as jets were taking over the skies and the air force realized it would be best if pilots of jet fighters were in decent shape.

My mother got both booklets and tried to interest the family in the program.  I got into it, but neither my sister nor father did.  My father died of a stroke at the age of 53—overweight, alcoholic, and a heavy smoker; my mother—non-smoker, occasional glass of wine— came from a family of long-lived women and died at 85.

For various reasons, I became interested in physical fitness early, had that reinforced in the army, and became a life-long runner.  The line from 5BX that sticks in my memory, however, is this:  “Walking is a ‘best’ exercise.”

After 60 years of running marathons, climbing mountains, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, backpacking generally, and chronic gym-rattery, I have come to the conclusion that if, for whatever reason, I could no longer do anything else, I could still walk and it would still keep my heart healthy and my weight down.

The great thing about walking is that you don’t need any equipment except a pair of legs, decent shoes, and the great outdoors.  All it takes is the simple decision, taken myriad times a day, to walk farther rather than shorter, given the choice.  I always found it ironic, going to Gold’s Gym, watching people try to park as close to the door as possible.  Why not park as far away as possible and get in the extra walking?

Another simple choice:  Take the stairs rather than the elevator, and if you’re forced to use an escalator or moving sidewalk, then walk or climb at the same time.  (You’ll get there faster.)

Instead of having a carry-on bag with wheels, get one without and carry it.  (This will give you exercise as well as encourage you to travel lighter.)

Tying your shoes?  Instead of sitting down, or putting your foot up on a stool, bend over from the waist to tie them.

Instead of trying to minimize the number of times you climb the stairs every day, look for ways to increase it.  In the gym, the StairClimber (or StairMaster, whatever) is the least popular piece of equipment, but one of the absolute best.  Still, it does nothing for you the stairs down to the basement don’t do, if climbed often and vigorously enough.

All of this assumes you are not suffering from serious knee or hip problems, of course.  Medical limitations are a whole different question and one for you and your doctor.

Back to walking:  The exercise potential of walking can be varied through several means.  Speed is the obvious one, and striding out at about four miles an hour is a good brisk pace.  Distance is the second consideration, and walking longer and farther is obviously better and better.  It does, however, add to the time required.

You can increase the exercise value while reducing the time required by looking for inclines—picking a route with hills, the longer and steeper the better.  And then there is the weight you carry.  With a backpack, you can increase the strain a little bit or a whole lot.  Even ten pounds in a pack adds to the exercise value, but if you toss on a pack with 30 pounds and go for a five-mile hike with mountains boots—heavier than running shoes—who needs to pay gym fees?  You can work up to 50 or 60 pounds, or even heavier, but you soon get into complex questions of appropriate footwear.  At that point, you’ve gone beyond “walking as a best exercise.”

Another approach, which I’ve used occasionally, is wearing one- or two-pound ankle weights, although expert opinion on these differs.  Now I just wear my Lowa mountain boots (my faithful old Meindls finally died) which weigh about 2.5 pounds each.  An added advantage is that soon your boots and pack are as comfortable as fleece slippers and an old flannel shirt.  You even reach the point where you would as soon walk without a pack as walk without pants—it becomes the natural (and very healthy) way of things.

When backpack hunting in the mountains, after a couple of days, you feel naked without your pack on your back and your rifle in your hand.

Speaking of which, you can’t always carry a rifle, but you can always carry a heavy walking stick or staff, and adding a little weight that way naturally adds to the exertion and benefits.

Exercise, I’ve found, is largely a state of mind, and fitness can be a result of simply setting your mind to get all the exercise you can in everyday life, putting your mind on autopilot, and forgetting about it.

As Gray’s shooting editor advances through his eighth decade, he finds his mind on autopilot more often than not, and not always intentionally.