At my annual check-up in 2010, the doctor pointedly told me, “You have high blood pressure and it hasn’t gone down since your last visit.” The last visit was a month earlier, when I’d promised to change my diet and start an exercise routine. I was 32-years-old and running out of excuses.
I came to the follow-up appointment knowing that I had polished off a quart of butter pecan ice cream the night before and begun the day with a big syrupy pile of pancakes. Truthfully, I was surprised he didn’t tell me that I was diabetic. Still, this was worrying.
The doctor told me he’d have to put me on meds—and that I’d need to exercise and eat well this time around.
I’d promised to change my diet and start an exercise routine. I was 32-years-old and running out of excuses.
At that point, my weight had ballooned to 225 pounds (which was much higher than it was during my last pregnancy in 2003, seven years earlier). I was feeling every pound, too—breathing heavily and needing a half-hour of recovery time after carrying laundry up and down the stairs. My knees and ankles ached, and my back was on fire. Everywhere I went, it felt like my heart was going to beat right out of my chest.
I left that appointment frightened, thinking of all those serious blood pressure medicine side effects (like death!) you hear about in commercials. I also ruminated on all the rumors and myths (which I knew weren’t entirely true) I’d heard about blood pressure meds from people I knew:
You get on those pills and never get off. They’re addictive.
My cousin’s uncle’s wife got on blood pressure pills and had to have a liver transplant a month later.
They make you feel like crap.
I knew I was too young for blood pressure medication. I needed to do something about this situation—so, after a tortuous mile-long walk through my neighborhood, where my kids rode along beside me and heckled me for being “soooo sloooow,” I got my big ass on a bike.
I had bought it a few seasons back at a yard sale, and had promptly shoved it to the back of the shed. It was an adult mountain bike with a few gears, and it totally worked once I cleaned off the cobwebs. I got on and pedaled around the yard to try it out.
The seat was a challenge. It was a tad too small for my big hind quarters, so I bought a wider seat and set off for my first ride.
I knew I was too young for blood pressure medication. I needed to do something about this situation.
After one block, my knees ached. I stopped to flex them and started again. Soon, my calves were wailing and tightening and begging me to quit. I rode on, knowing that turning back would mean the bike would go back to the shed and my exercise attempts would end. I didn’t like walking and I knew that nothing else would get me up and out of the house. I also thought about those blood pressure meds and kept pedaling.
By the time I reached the park about a mile from my house, I was cruising in the wind, feeling pretty good, and barely noticing my aches and pains. Before I knew it, I was farther from the house than I had ever been without a car. I got a little worried about tiring out on the way home, so I turned back. The sun was setting and the air was cooler, but I made it.
Over the next three months, I carved out time to ride every single day that I could, taking my kids along with me. We would drive to the park by the beach with our truck loaded up with bikes and gear. We’d ride the trails that ran throughout the park until the sun had all but set on the horizon. I even rode to the Saturday morning farmer’s market whenever I could, weaving through the crowds of tourists downtown to bring home fresh produce—which, incidentally, helped me improve my eating habits. I became addicted to that late afternoon ride for the rest of the summer.
Before I knew it, I was farther from the house than I had ever been without a car.
And because I was biking all the time, I drank loads of water to stay hydrated. I was drinking so much water that my soda intake had gone down drastically. I also brought portable snacks (like almonds, berries, protein bars, and fruits) to take with me on the bike. These little snacks helped reduce my appetite for junk food, and since eating huge, heavy dinners made riding tedious, I naturally sought out lighter meals.
One day, at the end of the summer, I went shopping. I tried on my usual size 16 pants and found that I was actually a loose-fitting size 14 (almost a 12!). I went home happily with my new duds.
At that point, I had lost 25 pounds. Plus, my blood pressure had come down to a much better range.
Now, seven years later, I’m still a big girl on a bike, but I’m way healthier.