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#GetOutside Champion Hilary Tomlinson tells us about how she walked herself back to health after struggling with the effects of Meniere's Disease.
As you may know I suffer from Meniere’s Disease which affects my balance among other things. Consequently I have to rely significantly more on my eyesight to help keep my equilibrium.
Noise, lots of visual movement and artificial light can also be very uncomfortable for me and trigger “attacks” where my balance goes completely. Being outside in the fresh air helps, though people find it strange that I wear a warm hat to keep my ears at a constant temperature even when it’s hot.
Rather than become a recluse I have tried to remain active and change my lifestyle to cope with the limitations caused by my poor health.
It helps to have a supportive husband and Stuart is my rock, occasional crutch, navigator and guide through difficult terrain like getting downhill over stony ground. He also acts as my ears to alert me to bikes or other walkers approaching from behind.
Unfortunately, for most of this year my balance has been quite poor and I have been unable to do the amount of walking I would have liked, and have certainly been restricted in being able to get onto many high fells in the Lake District. It’s surprising how quickly you can lose your fitness and in my case confidence if you are unable to keep active. I’ve therefore described a couple of local walks in and around the Staffordshire Moorlands and the Peak District. These have been very helpful for me as they are on generally good paths with not too much rough terrain to negotiate.
The Hawksmoor and Dimmingsdale route is my favourite local walk and I use this to gauge my stamina on the couple of small pulls uphill. 5 years or so ago I wanted to improve my fitness and started doing this walk on a very regular basis, sometimes daily.
At first I became out of breath quickly on all the hills and had to stop to catch my breath regularly. Over a relatively short space of time the hills became easier and the stops less frequent. Eventually I could stroll up them and carry on a conversation which was completely impossible at first. So having had a prolonged lay-off with only an occasional short walk I recently returned to this favourite walk.
Despite having a lot less miles under my belt I was pleasantly surprised how well my stamina coped, particularly on the small hills.
Talking was not easy to start with but after a couple of days I had improved and was able to give Stuart some more “ear ache” (I think secretly he was enjoying the peace – if you can call listening to me huff and puff uphill, as peace!).
There is nothing special in the way I have approached walking...
I always wear good boots and use walking poles on every occasion. The poles not only aid my stability and provide reassurance but I am convinced they make walking so much easier.
On the level and uphill your arms help to propel you forward and downhill the poles are essential for my balance and can take some of the strain that inevitably comes on your knees. Surprisingly though there is a proper techniques to holding walking poles otherwise you end up gripping them really hard and tiring your arms and hands.
The trick is to put your hand up through the loop and then pull both straps into your hands before grasping the pole. This may sound counter intuitive but by doing this you can guide the pole with just your thumb and one or two fingers and then pull down on the straps which should also be around your hand and wrist, making it far less tiring. If you’re unsure any good walking shop will show you the technique.
I also find poles help me to walk more upright thereby having my weight going through my hips and helping to alleviate back ache, particularly when you’re carrying a back pack.
The rest is just about pacing yourself.
Do little and often, gradually building up the length of your walk and the difficulty. I also feel that including some inclines is helpful and the ability to walk and talk uphill is a sure fire way of gauging how well you’re doing.
If you find it difficult at first give yourself a break and then see if you can get a bit further. Over time you will start to feel better and notice that walks that were once difficult become easier. Take a picnic and a drink and enjoy the countryside and find how relaxing it can be.
Try it for a month and see what a difference it can make for you.