Here’s the thing about aging: It’s not something you think about until your body decides to send you a reminder, “Oh, I guess cage wrestling isn’t the best idea at my age.”

I had one of those reminders at the eye doctor last week. No, not cage wrestling, but just as painful.

First, a little back story on my eye situation.

I can’t ever remember seeing clearly, even as a child. I just assumed everything in life was in soft focus. My parents realized it was time to see an ophthalmologist when, during a road trip to grandma’s house, I mistook cows for sheep. 

Thus, began years of increasingly stronger and thicker prescription lenses. This further validated my nerdiness at a time when fitting in was crucial to not landing on a psychiatrist’s couch 20 years later.

My eyes grew progressively worse with time until I bottomed out at 20/400, my current vision without glasses. To give you an idea of “how blurry is that, anyway?” let’s just say when I take out my contact lenses at night, I need glasses to walk from the bathroom to the bedroom. Without them I’d walk into walls at best and fall into the bathtub at worst.

As if that weren’t enough, Mother Nature thought it would be totally hilarious to add astigmatism to the mix and — get ready for some serious knee slapping yucks– a congenital cataract in my left eye.

Yes, apparently you can be born with a cataract.

The only prescription stronger than the one I currently have is a seeing eye dog.

The good news, my eye doc tells me, is the brain can compensate for a lot of things, including vision around a cataract. Or, as he told me, “I don’t know how you see out of that eye. It looks like mud.”

Alrighty.

But things began changing a couple of years ago. Each appointment turned into a game of “how much of the chart can I memorize while the tech is out of the room?”

Because: not good.

My right eye was fine, but as soon as I had to view the chart with only my left eye, blurriness blocked out more of the lines each year.

Doc: “Tell me how far you can read down the chart.”

Me: “I can see about three lines down.”

Doc: “Okay… what do you see?”

Me: “P? Q? T?”

I was tossing out letters faster than the final round in Wheel of Fortune. In reality, I saw blobs and blurs and was hoping any vertical line was a “T” or “L.”

Although the congenital cataract was initially to blame, now age-related changes also kicked in since my appointment last year.

Suddenly this usually easy, breezy, in-and-out, “see you next year” appointment turned as serious as a scene in a horror film where you know the clown is waiting for you around the next corner.

Bottom line: I need cataract surgery.

Those four words throw a giant bucket of reality on all the “you don’t look your age!” comments I much prefer to hear.

It’s no emergency, but by year’s end I will be going under the knife, as it were.

In summary, aging feels so much like running and suddenly stepping into a pothole. You go through life minding your own business when “HELLO!” the Wicked Witch of All Things Old and Decrepit shows up.

But let’s focus on things most of us can STILL do: walking.

It’s what makes this exercise so popular, even though it’s far from new. It’s simple (not necessarily easy!), requires no equipment other than a sturdy pair of walking shoes (do not cut corners on quality) and a safe area in which to walk.

And you don’t need hours of training.

              Walking poles help you burn more calories

Win-win-win-win-win! 

Before you begin, ponder this… compare the calorie burns of various intensities, each for 30 minutes for a 150-lb. woman:

walking 3.0 mph, fairly slow, on a firm surface118 calories
3.5 mph, moderate pace136
3.5 mph, moderate pace, going uphill215
4.0 mph, brisk pace, flat firm surface179
4.5 mph, very brisk (nearly jogging)226

As you can see, pace, incline and adding weight (which I only recommend if you’re completely free of any joint issues – and in the form of a weighted vest, not dumbbells) boosts calorie burn considerably.

With this in mind, the following workouts can help you get more from your time on the road – or treadmill – try ‘em!

Track your ticker

A heart rate monitor (available at any sporting goods store or on Amazon) helps you track your effort by measuring how hard you’re really working. Most of us think we’re exercising far more vigorously than we really are. Wear the heart rate monitor for a few workouts to find your average heart rate and strive for five to 10 beats above your baseline to make sure you’re putting effort into it.

Walk fast, then slow, repeat

Alternate going faster and slower and you’ll burn more calories even after you’re finished. How much more depends on how hard you worked and for how long. Start by alternating 30 to 60 seconds of higher intensity (a fast walk or light jog) with 60 seconds of easy walking. As you get in better shape decrease the slower times and increase the harder intervals. Do this no more than twice a week along with your longer walks or you’ll end up with an ice pack on your leg

Head for the hills

Walking up hills engages the glutes and hamstrings (note: avoid inclines if you have any back issues) and burns more calories. A 3.5 mph hill walk boosts calorie burn to 215 per hour versus 136 per hour for the same pace done on flat ground.

Walk like a cross-country skier without snow

Using Nordic walking poles gets your upper body into the action, which increases calorie burn. Using walking poles also reduces impact on knees. Use them by firmly positioning the pole at a 45-degree angle behind you, then push back strongly against the ground to propel yourself forward.

Get in-vested

I see women walking with hand and ankle weights, but these can not only throw off your gait but they can also hurt your joints. A better option: a weighted vest, which evenly distributes the work load (note: check with your doctor first if you have hip, knee or ankle problems).

Each one of these ideas helps you burn more calories than doing the same old same old.

Mix It Up

This approach weaves simple exercises into your walk

  • Warm up with a light stride for 5 minutes to start
  • Pick up the pace for 5 minutes
  • Slow down and do walking lunges 20x
  • Resume walking at a slow-moderate pace for 3 minutes
  • Pick up the pace for 2 minutes
  • Slow down and side shuffle for 10x each side
  • Resume moderate-slow pace 3 minutes
  • Pick up pace for 2 minutes (as fast as you can walk or jog)
  • Slow down to moderate pace, then pause and do 15 squats
  • Follow with 15 calf raises (go up on your toes and down by dropping your heels down off a ledge and up)
  • Stretch and cool down 

Power your pace

For a change of pace from interval walking, try “power walking” to increase intensity without adding impact to joints. Tightening your core muscles and adding arm movements—such as pumping arms back and forth—can help you burn more than 400 calories an hour.

Power walking can be tiring but it should never be painful. Work within your fitness abilities.

Sample power walking routine:
– Warm up at a slow-to-moderate walk for 3 to 5 minutes

– Increase your pace using short, quick steps
– Practice a heel-to-toe roll, pushing off from the heel, rolling through the foot and pushing off your big toe
– Pull in and tighten your abdominal (core) muscles
– Pump your arms: keeping arms bent with fists loosely closed, bring arms back and forth as if skiing

Now you: What’s YOUR walking style? Do you like to hike hills? Race walk? Combine walking and exercise? Let me know in the comments section below!

Other posts you may enjoy:

3 ways to minimize workout time… and maximize results

5 Ways to turn failure into raving success

3 Best shoulder shaping exercises for women over 50

You totally rock!