This is what I wrote for my final writing assignment in one of my online writing courses back in late July 2015. I just added some pictures. Hope you enjoy reading it!

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On my daily walk around the neighbourhood. I had to wear a DORKY GAIT BELT for someone to hold me in case I fell.

I loved to exercise in all its forms – be it the hard-core Insanity, T25 or boot camp workouts, more moderate aerobics, running, cycling, hiking, or Pilates, or relaxing and therapeutic yoga. Hooked on the well-known countless benefits of exercise, I worked out at least three up to five times per week.

On a biking and hiking trip at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, Thunder Bay, Ontario (October 2014)
Tired and hangry from a hike at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Big Island, Hawaii (November 2013)
Hiking Wilcox Pass in Jasper National Park, Alberta (May 2013)

I had to say goodbye to this extremely active lifestyle temporarily when my husband and I got into a serious car accident two and a half months ago. Although my husband did not suffer any major injuries, I was left with a broken neck and left arm. When my neurosurgeon told me I fractured my neck in at least three different places, I was devastated. My broken neck requires complete immobilization as it heals for six months with a halo brace (until next month) and then a Lerman Minerva jacket (until November).

The day after our accident with the halo
Lerman Minerva jacket – my next neck brace

While cumbersome and uncomfortable, these neck braces worn 24/7 allowed me to be mobile and live semi-normally. The alternative was to stay in bed for months – no thanks! Despite this heavy burden (literally – the halo brace weighed seven pounds) and temporary interruption in my life, I was thankful to be alive with my spinal cord intact. I was not paralyzed; I was not in a wheelchair; I was able to walk.

Walking is the only safe form of exercise I can perform as I wear my halo brace. Because of walking, I am becoming stronger and healing faster, both physically and mentally.

First, walking promotes weight control. Because fracture healing requires a lot of energy, I am increasing my food intake, especially of protein and milk products (for calcium for bone building). I love to eat, so this isn’t a problem for me, but I want to remain at my normal weight. Walking, as well as carrying the halo brace, burns many calories, preventing me from gaining an excessive amount of weight during my recovery.

Furthermore, walking improves blood circulation. Fracture healing needs good circulation, pumping an adequate flow of nutrient-replenishing blood to the fracture site and soft tissues as well as draining toxins.

Aside from these physical benefits, walking boosts my mental well being immensely too. I owe my greatly improved mood and attitude and reduced anxiety and stress partially to walking (my extremely supportive family and friends and faith in God are my other reasons). Exercise releases feel-good brain chemicals like certain neurotransmitters, endorphins, and endocannabinoids. I was confined in the hospital for a month, and felt depressed from time to time in the first weeks post-accident, feeling like my hobbies like intense exercise and travel, my job, and my freedom were taken away from me (it sounds like I am overreacting when I write this now, but I really did feel like that). I started walking regularly after each meal as early as the third day after the accident. Although I just made numerous loops around the hospital floor, walking distracted me from cycling through my negative thoughts and feelings, and I was able to move on from them more quickly.

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Walking in the park with my sister

Finally, walking lets me get out of the house, breathe some fresh air, and absorb some sunshine. Currently on short-term disability, I am unable to go back to my regular job as a mine geologist, so I stay home most of the time (unless I go to my regular physical therapy for my left arm, doctor’s appointments, or rarely to a restaurant or store). So I don’t feel so cooped up indoors, I make it a huge point to walk outdoors daily. Walking outdoors also allows me to get my daily dose of Vitamin D from the sun to aid in calcium absorption for bone building. Improving each time I walk, I worked up to walking at least 5,500 steps (1.6 miles or 2.6 km) for one hour everyday (on my first days of walking out of the hospital, I could walk only a mile in that same hour!).

(Because I have been out of work for five months and missed Excel LOL, here are some graphs illustrating my progress. Data collected using my Fitbit Zip.)

When I started physiotheraphy, I was too tired to walk in the after my appointments. I then gradually worked up to walking almost everyday again.
I aimed to walk an hour a day. I also wasn’t able to walk on long days when I had doctor’s appointments (two hours away one-way) or when it rained.
The trendline shows that my speed improved over time. My regular hiking pace is about 4 km/hr without the brace.
The trendline shows that my speed improved over time (data from no-walk days omitted). My regular hiking pace is about 3.5 to 4 km/hr without the brace.

When no one can walk with me (in case I fall) or when it rains (in case I slip), I feel like my day is ruined. Because walking is possible anywhere at any time, I walk around the house instead. It’s not nearly as fun as being outside, but at least I get my physical activity in for the day.

In summary, walking continues to help me cope with my recovery in a healthy, positive way. They say that spine healing may sometimes feel like a “one step forward, two steps back” process, but I have never felt like that. I firmly believe that along with my optimistic attitude, caring husband, family and friends, and healthy diet, walking helps me become brace-free, one step at a time.

I can't wait until I can turn my head again!
I can’t wait until I can turn my head again! (Horseshoe Bend, Arizona, March 2014)