Thursday, 23 July 2015

Knowing how way leads on to way…

Most times, I just follow my (traditional, inherited, Yorkshire-profiled) nose – or a familiar perambulation – but sometimes, I find I need a target, a goal, to encourage me to keep on putting “one foot in front of another”: as part of the conjoined aims of experiencing somewhere (new and) beautiful; and coping, on a regular basis, with the severe, constant pain that attempts to rule my life; my every moment; my every movement….

As Karen Lee Richards writes, on the Health Central website:

Although study after study has shown that exercise helps reduce… pain, we’ve had little understanding of why until now. Scientists have long known that during prolonged strenuous workouts, our bodies release endorphins, a kind of natural opiate that reduces pain and enables us to continue exercising. But they haven’t known why (or even if) more moderate exercise would have a similar effect.

However, a recent report – whose purpose was “To examine the effect of aerobic exercise training on pain sensitivity” (albeit “in healthy individuals”) – I believe, now offers us some clues. As Gretchen Reynolds reports in The New York Times – quoting Matthew Jones, who led the study – “the findings intimate that ‘something occurring in the brain was probably responsible for the change’ in pain thresholds… [that] ‘the brain begins to accept that we are tougher than it had thought, and it allows us to continue longer although the pain itself has not lessened’.”

The study also could be meaningful for people struggling with chronic pain, Mr. Jones said… the experiment suggests that moderate amounts of exercise can change people’s perception of their pain and help them… “to be able to better perform activities of daily living.”

Or, as the monograph itself concludes, more formally:

This finding may have important clinical applications for exercise prescription in patients with persistent pain. For instance, patients with persistent pain may gain a pain relieving benefit of exercise by training with unaffected or pain free limbs. This would serve to improve their functional capacity and clinical outcomes, without the risk of exacerbating their symptoms. A transfer of endurance training to untrained limbs has previously been shown after exercise training.

As with much to do with chronic pain, therefore, coping with it requires some (not always permanent) reprogramming of the stubborn – but still plasticpia mater that (I hope) lies between our ears. But, even without knowing all the technical stuff that may go on ‘up there’, it is easy to understand how the positive distraction of focusing on the world around you – especially if actively involved in navigating your way around it – can mediate, or even relegate (even if only temporarily), the negative, Dementor‑like sensations screaming around your body and soul; as well as producing protracted dividends.

Acknowledging the medical benefits, the “demonstrated link between increased physical activity, well-being and health” – as Hippocrates said: “Walking is man’s best medicine” – there are also psychological, aesthetic, rewards, of course. The swallows mobbing a stubbornly-stupid sparrowhawk – which, eventually, was driven away by their constant barrage, accompanied by excited, machine-gunned ‘splee‑plink’ and ‘flitt‑flitt’ alarm calls (although they actually appeared to be enjoying themselves…). A birdfight, rather than a dogfight.

Or the lonely lapwing, mournfully reiterating its ‘peewit’ soubriquet (“There is enough evil in the crying of wind”) by the side of a farm’s large pond (“I wander by the edge of this desolate lake”). The parent-and-child buzzards mewing in turn, soaring and circling over the wheat-fields of Baddesley Clinton; then heading, as close companions, true, towards Hay Wood. Always; all ways: the roads taken – and not taken….

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
– Robert Frost: The Road Not Taken

So, why was I there, what “target”, what “goal”, had brought me to these places, these events; stretching my legs, stretching my limits? Well, I had donned my boots in the name of a good cause: the RamblersBig Pathwatch.

Walkers understand better than anyone just how important it is to keep our paths well maintained, and they already do an amazing job of helping with this just by regularly using our paths. We are hoping as many people as possible will go one step further and play a crucial role in protecting our paths by getting involved….
Benedict Southworth, chief executive, Ramblers

As the NFU reports: “The Local Authority rights of way teams are struggling to survey every route and so the Ramblers have started the project to undertake these surveys.” And, as I have already discovered, only a week in (and four blocks crawlingly completed – it’s pretty much like doing a giant crossword or sudoku, in slower-motion, with kilometre-sized squares…) – encountering a chronically-broken bridge; impassable and barely-recognizable footpaths cloaked by nettles and brambles; absent waymarkers; forbidding signs; big new houses blocking your way, your view… – Britain’s footpaths truly show signs of disappearing through “slow decay”. And something – this thing – needs to be done. Or where else shall we go…?

That is not to say that there are not many responsible farmers and landowners – the National Trust (whose plethora of properties make excellent launching points; and provide the perfect sustenance and shelter necessary for rest and recovery…) principal amongst them – whose almost religious, rigorous care of the rights of way across their land make rambling a truly rewarding (and hazard-free) experience: even for those limping of limb. And, being in the middle of England, even I – a bare‑faced Northerner: who likes my landscapes (‘like me chips’) rugged and dripping – have to admit that the scenery is something else. Being mainly flat (by my measure) – thank goodness – it is also a lot easier on my agéd bones.

So onwards will I plod, the National Grid as my guide: tracing the dotted, dashed, diamonded, green lines; re-tracing my steps; registering and recording both the lowlights and highlights of our local environs; gaining behoofs on the hoof – both self- and society-interested; a square deal, if you will: an equitable arrangement, where my health (both mental and physical), as well as that of the countryside (and our enjoyment of it), is enhanced immeasurably. Encouraged thusly, thus will I go on “putting one foot in front of another”.

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