Over coffee recently, we were discussing long-range ramifications, almost all bad, of this COVID-19 pandemic. Someone asked if there might be anything positive to come from it. There was a long pause.

I said I might have something. And I might. See what you think.

Some background: I live in the Fondren/Woodland Hills area of Jackson. Funky Fondren, we call it, and we love it, nearly everything about it. We love the old houses, the glorious old trees, the mostly wide streets, the diversity of our neighbors, the terrific restaurants, the taverns, the coffee shops, all of it.

Rick Cleveland

Now I am a walker. I walk a lot. I was once a runner, but lower back and knee issues changed me into a walker. We’ll get to that.

Here’s what I have noticed over the last few months of the pandemic: I have so much more pedestrian company. More people are walking and jogging. Families are out taking morning walks and evening walks. People are walking more at all times of the day – from before dawn until well into the night. I have no scientific evidence but would guess foot traffic easily has tripled, perhaps more, in the past year. That’s a good thing.

Let’s face it, there’s little else to do during the pandemic. There are only so many books you can read, so much TV you can watch, so many card games you can play. I suspect many may have learned what I have come to know. That is, walking is not only good for your physical health, it is good for your soul. I walk for exercise. I walk to clear my mind. I walk so sometimes I can have that second helping. During the pandemic, I have walked for sanity. I have walked when the temps were above 90 and have bundled up and walked when it has been below freezing. I walked during the Mississippi version of a snowstorm the other day. Beautiful.

Sometimes, I listen to podcasts or ballgames. Sometimes, I listen to music. And sometimes, I just enjoy the sounds and smells of the neighborhood. Yesterday, I listened to The Daily podcast, The Athletic podcast, our weekly Mississippi Today podcast and two Little Feat albums. It was a long walk, a six-miler. One New Year’s resolution: I want to try listening to audiobooks.

My pace rarely varies. I walk 15-to-16 minute miles, a brisk but manageable pace, right at four miles per hour. I can, when I have company on my walks, carry on a conversation – even up a hill.

Six years ago, I began keeping a walking log with a goal of at least 20 miles a week. I have missed that goal just once. My mileage has increased each year. I have my 2020 log in front of me. I walked 1,613 miles, an average of 4.42 miles a day, a tad over 25 miles a week. That was up more than 300 miles from 2019.

My family and friends jokingly – I hope – refer to me as The White Walker, which I am told comes from Game of Thrones. I googled it. I probably did look a little like that on the snow day.

Some friends clearly believe I have gone overboard on the walking. Perhaps, but if so, I have my reasons. I turned 68 last October. Both my parents died at that exact age. Six years ago, I had a scare. I got out of bed only to fall back in it. I got back up, fell back again. A few minutes later, I felt fine and went on to work.

My wife, who had been sleeping – or trying to sleep – during my episode, called the office and asked what had been going on. I explained. She told me to meet her at the emergency room. I did. They checked my blood pressure: 200/120, scary high. They checked me into the hospital, did all sorts of tests and determined I had experienced a transient ischemic attack (TIA), a mini-stroke with no lasting damage.

“You’re lucky,” the doctor told me. “You have received a shot over the bow that barely missed.”

Strokes killed my dad.

I asked what I needed to do. He asked me how much I exercised. “Not nearly as much as I used to,” was my honest answer. I told him about my knees and my lower back.

He told me I needed to get back to it. He told me I needed to lose 20 pounds. He told me walking would help me as much as running if I did it regularly, 30-45 minutes a day, five days a week.

So, of course, I did more. I weighed 224 that day. I weigh 188 now.

The more I read about staying fit as we age, the more I learn about how much strength exercises benefit older adults, of which I am now officially one. We lose muscle as we age. Strength training combats this. I had lifted weights nearly religiously into my 50s, but had given that up. I decided to incorporate pushups, chin-ups and sit-ups into my fitness routine. Sit-ups hurt my back so I switched to planks. Five years ago, I could not do one single complete chin-up. Now I do six sets of 12 reps at least twice a week. I do hundreds of pushups and planks a week. I stretch a lot, as well. I keep a log of all that and won’t bore you with those details, except this one: Recently, during a checkup, my blood pressure was 116/60. I hit a golf ball as far as I did 25 years ago. (I still can’t putt a lick.)

I am not saying what I do is for everyone. It does work for me. My eyes tell me that at least the walking part is working for a lot more people these days. Again, if ask me, that’s a good thing.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.