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Just Keep Moving, Don't Give Up

from the Monterey Herald

The second time I rode 100 miles on my bike was on the day I turned 50. The next day I could barely turn my head. A migraine that began at my shoulders and encased most of me set in and was reluctant to give up its hold.

The doctor I saw told me in no uncertain terms, “Your bike riding days are over! That’s arthritis in your neck barking at you.” So I gave away the bicycle that when it had been built for me cost more than the used cars I’d always driven. Unclipping from my bike shoes and giving away my trusted stead broke my heart. But human beings are resourceful; I discovered the joy and creativity-infusing ability of walking. In fact, doing so led me to write “Step into Nature: Nurturing Imagination and Spirit in Everyday Life,” my second nonfiction book, and so much more, including this column. But the dream of riding a bike never let up its hold on my psyche and on my lungs and legs.

When I walked into the physical therapy office of Nathan Kadlecek’s Kadalyst Wellness and Physical Therapy (, I wasn’t even thinking about my bicycle. Rather, I was thinking about my feet that had been troublesome for some time. He asked me what were my goals. To be able to walk a fair way without foot pain again was first. And then I casually mentioned that I’d been a distance rider and in my dream of dreams, I’d be able to get back on a bike again, even if not a skinny-tire, racing bike, and ride a dozen or so miles at a stretch. He thought that was reasonable, that it was in no way beyond reach. I’m sorry to say, I chuckled in disbelief. Nate told me about other clients, also over 60, who’d been successful at accomplishing other such outlandish exercises.

It’s now nearly a year since Nate began urging my 64-year-old self toward greater strength, greater flexibility, and mobility. Take a look at the weights in the photograph here. (They do not sit in my living room as decoration.) One of them is a 45-pound kettlebell. I do an exercise called deadlifts with it, three sets of ten repetitions a couple of times a week. Drumroll, please: I’m back on my bicycle! And though the problems with my feet are significant, last week I took a 5-mile walk as I have many times over this past year. Is my progress a consistent forward motion, with an increase in difficulty (and joy)? No, hardly. But the main thing is, and this is something Nate has taught me, I persist. I try to remember (and frequently forget) to be gradual in my approach to increasing mileage and incline both on foot or on bike.

Nate agreed to sit down with me so that readers of this column might also benefit from his immense knowledge, commitment to his clients and relentless care. The gems from our conversation appear in my January column because we often find ourselves inspired by the year’s newness, ready to get moving again, and I’d like to encourage that, knowing how much better I feel and that I’m a far kinder person when I exercise regularly outside.

*Winter weather: On these colder days, start slow and consider extending your warm-up, especially if arthritis is something you deal with. But no matter what, dressing in layers will help you warm and loosen up.

*Living with arthritis: Walking may help you feel better. If walking is really painful, try rowing, cycling, lifting weights, swimming. Just keep moving because movement increases your body temperature, and that makes your joints happy. Though I don’t swim, I do get in a pool and ride a noodle back and forth. No, you may not come watch me! Every day begins, after coffee and some writing, with time on the floor doing a little yoga and stretching. Weights come a bit later in the morning after I’m warmer.

Consider an appropriately fitted walking stick. Sometimes we don’t walk because of concerns about balance and a fear of falling. A walking stick can help remedy this hesitation.

Being active isn’t only helpful to your physical body but it can lift your mood and outlook. I have found this to be enormously true. (Check out my essay that addresses this in the winter issue of Catamaran Literary Reader: )

*Increasing muscle mass is important as we age. Doing so can, at least to some degree, remedy the natural loss that’s the result of aging and help us to not become frail. Just because a person is, say, 70-years-old, doesn’t mean muscle mass can’t be increased. Being stronger allows us to do the things we most want to do. So, get up off of that thing and you’ll feel better! The more we move, the greater our chances of healthy longevity.

For post-menopausal women, one of the best ways to support bone density is to lift weights. Doing so puts good stress on the skeletal system, increasing bone density. Many of us know people who’ve become awfully frail in their old-age. I don’t want to be that person! My goal is to be able to walk 5 miles when I’m 90!

*Pushing oneself hard once or twice a week can improve our capacity. Lifting weights creates new neural patterns. Learning new skills is good for the brain. Learning new exercises can support us in building new connections in the brain.

*Adaptability is one of the hallmarks of healthy aging. On days when I’m not feeling my strongest, maybe I’m not up to doing three sets of bicep curls so I do one or two. If I can’t walk 5 miles, can I do 3?

Being able to move our bodies helps us to feel and be competent. I’m certain it aids my creativity greatly and that fosters a sense of competency and, on some days, outright brilliance!

Nate suggests “doing something you can have success at. Run for 10 seconds. Exercise doesn’t have to be all or nothing.” That is particularly fitting for me to remember though I forget it over and over because my personality tends toward being over-zealous. One day, I rode my bike 17 miles and felt fine the next day. So, the following day I took off and rode 13 miles. Sounds reasonable enough — on the surface. But those 13 miles were comprised of mostly hills. Frankly, it was nothing short of idiotic. I was off my bike for a couple of months. I hate to admit what a slow learner I am. But I’m telling you, that wasn’t the last time I did such a thing. Recently, I walked 5 miles and because the rain was coming and I didn’t want to be unable to exercise in nature, the next day I went back out and did it again. I’m paying now. But I’m not giving up. That’s the main thing. Don’t give up!

Nate’s last words to me in this interview were, “People’s physical and mental capacity is greater than they think! ‘I can’t’ is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Better to say, ‘I wonder how I can do this thing.’ An open mind can solve problems.”

Patrice Vecchione

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We have something else in common! Kettlebells! Love those deadlines!

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