Another Spring season is right around the corner. You know, more daylight, warmer weather, and the beauty of nature showing its dance of life one more time. For my family, Spring means a lot of things. For my wife, it means getting all the vegetable seeds organized in preparation for her garden. For my children, it means more carefree outdoor play time. For my dog, it means a chance to explore beyond the back porch steps without becoming frozen or consumed by the snow. And for me, Spring means a return to bicycling. Consider for a moment what changes you will experience this Spring. Will you garden, play, explore, or get active? Do you have any plans to do new things?
Have you ever considered how the human body deals with change? The human body brilliantly maintains a balancing act that we call homeostasis. In other words, the body builds, remodels, increases, or decreases thousands of internal processes to maintain a working being. It adapts to stressors that we encounter, internal and external to our bodies. When the body is balanced, we feel healthy and vibrant. If internal and/or external stressors overwhelm our balancing act, we will feel a symptom, such as discomfort, hunger, anxiety, and pain, to name a few.
Here’s a short bicycling story to illustrate becoming acutely out of balance and finding recovery in wisdom, growth, and a Snickers bar. Almost a year ago to date, my cycling friends and I decided to take advantage of a mild March day and ride twenty-five or so miles. I saw it as a great primer for the season. I bundled up and off we went. I felt great riding the relatively flat parts of the course. The hills presented somewhat of a different experience. I felt my legs burn as we climbed the Laurel countryside. I paid close attention to how I peddled, pushing and pulling, or just pushing to get the wheels rolling. I also felt my heart pounding and lungs gasping for air on certain occasions. Just how much weight did I gain over the winter? It was all good, only a few more miles back to home. But along the ride, we encountered another cyclist who suggested that we follow him up a mountain climb, just for the fun of it. This was a free-will decision that would make or break me. I said, “okay, let’s go”.
The four of us started the climb. First to lead was the new guy who had the bright idea, then my friends, in single file order, and me in the back. The climb was roughly four miles in duration and I lost sight of everyone within the first three quarter mile. I was solidly in a regretful state of mind for a poorly planned endeavor. I felt my legs slowly begin to lose power, I could not pull and push at the same time on the pedals simply because it was too taxing on my body. I searched every pocket hoping that an old Snicker’s bar or energy gel forgotten from last year could be found. No such luck. Even with the temperature at forty degrees and dropping, I began to shed my coat and unzip my jersey. I was on fire and sweating profusely. I was only moving at four to five miles per hour, so I took off my helmet which became like an oven on top of my head. I hung it on my handle bars as I kept moving. Only for a moment did I examine my thoughts of what the passing motorists were thinking as they saw this display of human stubbornness climbing the mountain.
I muttered my saving grace phrase, “it can’t last forever” over and again and kept crawling up the road. As I approached the final half mile stretch, I could see the summit. And that’s where my body’s balancing act completely fell apart. I began to see those spots and swervy lines in my vision. Yep, I was bonking, a term that otherwise means spent, exhausted, overused, out of fuel, empty, need help, bring food quickly. Bonking is the end result of low glucose levels needed to keep not only muscles moving, but the brain in working order. If you’ve ever experience this, then you know what I’m talking about.
I did a quick environmental assessment of which snow pile I should pass out in, but talked myself out of that line of thinking. I did make it to the top and eventually to a restaurant conveniently located there. Once inside I saw my two friends smiling and looking at me in somewhat of a surprise. They thought I turned around and gave up. No time for discussion, I drank a root beer and ate a Snickers bar or two. I was alive again, and even better it was all downhill to my home.
Take it from me that you are a resilient being. Had I only been mindful of my own balancing act, this story would have described very different experiences. My point is that there were many choices that could have helped my body maintain balance and ultimately maintain my wellbeing. We are all faced with these choices each and every day, not just when your life depends on a Snickers bar at the top of a mountain. The key is knowing when you are approaching that mountain in your life and how you will find your way safely home.
Doctor Valentine can be reached at S’eclairer. Call 724.468.3999 or 724.539.1633