All my life I’ve lived by the health and happiness edict that daily movement beats prescriptions, except of course in dire medical situations.
From the time I could walk, I grabbed onto my father Aris Nyad’s joy in the great outdoors. We swam to the ocean floor, scooting along after lobsters. We climbed all the big trees of the neighborhood. It’s funny what you remember after many, many years. My brother and I climbed a beautiful big tree, just as a drama unfolded beneath us. A boxer dog and a crab happened to meet up just under us. This bloody fight went on for a couple of hours. It was as if we were witnessing the gladiators of the Roman Coliseum. The boxer was of course bigger but the only damage he could do was to paw the shell of the crab, trying to damage it, crush it. The crab, on the other hand, had deadly pincers and they began to draw blood from the dog’s paws and legs each time the boxer came in for a paw swipe. We were spellbound. And worried. We admit it, we were rooting for the boxer. After such a long, hardfought battle, the crab succumbed and the wounded boxer feebly walked away.
The point is that we lived outdoors. We weren’t a television family, although we did read at night.
Yes, I became a competitive athlete and then spent the lion’s share of my adult life pursuing epic ocean swims but the truth is my value of movement isn’t a formal sports ethic. It’s more basic than that. I firmly believe my mental and physical health both revolve directly around being in movement for as much as the day as possible.
And today, in these unprecedented CoronaVirus times, I firmly believe our best coping mechanism is getting out for a daily walk.
Bonnie and I, following other executives such as Steve Jobs, take many of our EverWalk meetings on walks. We find the creativity, the open-mindedness, flows when we’re out strolling, gazing up at the magnificent trees, as opposed to sitting hunched over our laptops within four confining walls. And, again, at this moment, when we can’t hold indoor meetings, walking and talking is the way to go.
A few years ago, James Levine, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, coined the term “Sitting is the New Smoking”. Levine pronounced: “Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV, and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.”
During this CoronaVirus time, I have mistakenly plopped down in front of the television, thinking I have some unusual time to enjoy some shows I’ve missed during busier days. There is the slight enjoyment buzz of playing hooky. I hardly ever make it through the movie or show. I feel drowsy. My mind is sluggish. My ambitions are not firing through my brain.
I stop the show, bound up to grab my dog Teddy’s leash, and off we go. Immediately, with the first step out the door, I am smiling. All the projects I’ve started, and those I’m dreaming about, come flooding to the forefront. My endorphins kick in and I realize I’m happy just because I’m moving.
We have long known the science of endorphins. In lay terms, endorphins are secreted by the brain, which then kick in the body’s opiate receptors. They have been described as producing a morphine effect. When we move, no matter how fast or long, endorphins rise and we feel happy. A lot better than taking a morphine pill, right?
For me, as I’m sure is the case with many of you, it’s also the great outdoors that brings us gratitude and joy and an uplifting feeling that anything is possible. Most of us would ten times out of ten prefer to take a walk outdoors, rather than on a treadmill. But movement itself is the bottom line. And at this time, when we dearly need a positive outlook, we need to believe that we will get past this virus and return to our normal lives, moving is more key that ever.
It’s usually before dawn when I get into my gym. If this Pacific Ocean here where I live in Los Angeles were warmer, I might be plunging out into the waves, instead of my gym. But I consider my gym my sanctuary. First move is clicking on my plexiglass art frame that comes up in bright neon orange: PERSIST. Then for the next 90 to 150 minutes, I’m working.
Long sets of military-type calisthenics. Choices of several
Machines. Yoga stretches in between sets. I walk out of that gym sky high, ready for bear.
When Bonnie and I founded EverWalk, some four years ago, it wasn’t a direct connection to both of our athletic pasts. Bonnie had become the third ranked player on the pro racquetball tour in the 1980s, when racquetball was the rage in the U.S. I had my world-class swimming background. But we were looking for an activity that broad masses could do, could make part of their regular lives, for the rest of their lives.
Swimming out in the ocean, swimming in general, is a sublime high. To glide across the surface is a unique sensation and produces an all-round fit body. Many studies say that no activity uses more muscles of the body than swimming. And the meditative aspect, the sensory deprivation of not seeing or hearing much, can be an elixir to heal all kinds of emotional turmoil. But swimming, in any medium, is somewhat impractical for the masses.
Cycling offers many of the same rhythms as does swimming but cycling requires a fairly big money investment and, for the masses, there is also the crash danger element.
What they call the Runner’s High is real. Talk about a flow of endorphins. But I would say every runner I know who’s been at it for many years has debilitated knees or hips. Running wears down the joints. So I personally don’t consider it a lifetime activity for most people.
But how about WALKING? To be honest with you, Bonnie and I at first turned up our noses at walking. We were too hard-core. But then we started getting out there, walking our neighborhoods, walking the high school track, walking the local canyons, walking the beach paths. We were traveling. We were talking to each other as we never had before. We were meeting up with people who love to go on a journey from place to place on their own two feet.
And thus EverWalk was born. Yes, due to Bonnie and my combined badass past histories, we have dived into EPIC EverWalk events, 145 miles over seven days. And we intend to continue those. But it is apparent that the masses we’ve wanted to include are not up for that grueling experience. So we offer walks of just a mile, up to five miles, as part of the EverWalk stable of events. It’s sheer pleasure to stroll, chat, take the dogs playing in the park. We all go home happy as clams.
So I’ve come full circle. Sandwiched on each end of an intense athletic career, I at age five I was caught up in a giddy frenzy of exploring in the outdoors and now, at age seventy, I am keeping in what I call extremely good shape….and I’m a walker. And I’ll be a walker the rest of my days. A Happy EverWalker.
And this is certainly what we hope for all of you. If you do walk at this particular time, follow the standard guidelines and keep a six-foot social distance from all others. But walk. Breathe. Smile, Repeat.
About Diana Nyad:
A prominent sports journalist, filing for National Public Radio, ABC’s Wide World of Sports, The New York Times and others, Diana has carved her place as one of our compelling storytellers and sought-after public speakers. .