Last week, my family and I had to make the difficult decision to put our 13-year-old black lab down. Now, I’m not writing this to receive sympathy, but rather to share with you a realization I had while grieving. To give you a clear picture, I have to take you back to 2013 when I said goodbye to my mom who suffered from Multiple Sclerosis for over 35 years. Up until that time, I had been routinely taking Logan for a 2-3 mile walk every evening after we put the girls to sleep. It was a time that I looked forward to every day no matter the weather or my mood. These walks were therapeutic for a while after my mom’s passing. I used this time to not only bond with my dog, but also to clear my head, organize my thoughts, talk to my mom and more often than not, come up with some of my best ideas. By the conclusion of the walk, I always felt renewed, refreshed and happy.
Soon after my moms passing, Logan’s health began to take a turn. He had developed degenerative myelopathy. It begins with a loss of coordination (ataxia) in the hind limbs. He began to wobble when walking, knuckle over or drag his feet. It’s similar in many ways to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). His days of chasing Frisbees for hours at a time were forever behind him. The long walks became shorter and shorter. After a surgery this past summer to remove a growth, he developed a new challenge to his gait that affected his front left leg. Our nightly walks were now diminished to about 200-300 yards, which took about 30 minutes.
Now, like I mentioned, I’m not looking to get any sympathy. I’m trying to set the stage for this realization that recently occurred to me, in spite of the fact that the information I am about to reveal to you was something that I have known and preached for most of my life; exercise is good for you.
While revisiting a park the other day that I often took Logan to, I began walking the path he and I would walk. As I made my way along, I of course would recall all the amazing times we had here. I started to realize that I had not walked this path much recently, but in the past had spent a lot of time here. Ever since my moms passing and his decline in health, I will admit that my workouts had become fewer and further between…Okay, fine, I hadn’t been working out. The fact was, I was depressed; severely.
You see, by walking for 45-60 minutes every night at a 4-5 mph pace, I was getting “my fix”. I was essentially washing my brain with powerful neurotransmitters such as endorphins, serotonin and dopamine. These are the reward chemicals we secrete when exercising. They collectively will create a euphoric state and regulate your mood, appetite and sleep. They will also wipe out the negatively impacting stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol can increase blood sugar, cause wait gain, suppress the immune system and decrease bone formation.
As I was walking, I started to consider the timeline of the past few years. I had put on a significant amount of weight. I had convinced myself that mourning my mom’s death, my grandmother’s death, various other difficult life events and now my dog’s death, that it was normal to feel this way. My sleep was erratic at best and my mood swings were horrible. Although I had all the knowledge of the benefits of exercising in my head, I failed to apply it to myself.
I had allowed my life to take control of me instead of me taking control of it. Horrible life events will befall us all at anytime, regardless. It is in these times that I should have embraced my own wisdom instead of ignoring it. As I have mentioned to others recently, it’s so much easier to dispense good advice than it is to actually follow it.
60 minutes later, at the conclusion of the walk that I had embarked upon as a way of grieving, I was once again able to see clearly that the happiness I had once experienced on those late night long walks with my dog had as much to do with him as they did with me. You see, the epiphany was not in these revelations, but rather the fact that the exercise induced state of euphoria set into action once again by embarking on this long brisk walk, released the serotonin, dopamine and endorphins I was once creating nightly on my walks with Logan.
It is said, that ‘we pick and choose our sorrows long before we ever experience them’. I will miss my best friend. However, his passing has given me one last lesson to hold onto forever. I will now walk and/or run with Logan as we did before, with him in my heart and embrace the memory of our times spent together as I blissfully allow these naturally produced hormones to wash over me.
It is my hope, that if you find yourself reading this and are in a funk like I was, that you go out for a brisk walk and see for yourself how easy it can be to change your mood and body chemistry with a simple exercise like walking. I promise to continue to practice what I preach and never again allow my life to control me.
(If you have a moment (and some tissues), please watch a video I created in memory of Logan)