It’s About the Miles: Walking and Longevity

by Sarah Sung
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It’s About the Miles: Walking and Longevity

She swam 110.86 miles from Cuba to Miami at age 64. She walked nearly 140 miles from Los Angeles to San Diego at 67. It’s goes without saying that Diana Nyad — history-making swimmer, ultra-distance walker and co-founder of the epic event EverWalk is a woman who is pretty much up for anything, especially if it involves traveling vast distances using her own two feet, arms, legs (well, you get the picture). As Nyad puts it, it’s “the empowering sensation of traveling on your own steam.”

There are no apparent signs of her slowing down, either. In her late 60s, Nyad plans to do more EverWalks with co-founder Bonnie Stoll — and they’re as committed as ever to walking virtually everywhere — despite residing in car-crazy L.A. For 2020, they have their sights set on walking from coast to coast.

We sat down with Nyad and Stoll to talk about longevity, walking, swimming, recovery and just about everything under the wellness umbrella to see what we could learn from their experiences.

WHY IS WALKING, OR MOVEMENT IN GENERAL, IMPORTANT AS WE AGE?

Walking is something we can all do. It’s not as debilitating as, say, tennis or golf can be. Stoll’s mother — a longtime walker — remains active at 90 and has the body of a 50 year old. Nyad and Stoll believe that they’re still in the prime of their lives — and walking helps keep them there. Per Nyad, “Never was I in that good of shape or as powerful [as when I swam from Cuba to Miami]. Sixty-four was the prime of my athletic life.”

HOW ARE LONG-DISTANCE SWIMMING AND WALKING SIMILAR?

“You swim out to an island a few miles from shore and look back,” says Nyad. “You walk down the coast a few miles and look back. It’s a feeling of strength, to know that your body, your mind, took you that distance. You are traveling across the surface of the earth, on your own. And there is the meditative factor. Both walking and swimming (and cycling) produce a pleasant release of chemicals in the brain, from the metronomic, repetitive slap of the hands, [to the] touch of the feet to the road. It’s not simply the endorphins released when we do any exercise. It’s the rhythm that pleases our brains. It leads to thinking expansively. It’s one of the reasons people are beginning to take meetings on walks, instead of sitting at conference tables.”

HOW HAS YOUR TRAINING CHANGED OVER THE YEARS?

In short, it hasn’t for either woman. Stoll believes that for athletes, training is 90% mental. As you get older, you get mentally stronger, they say. Neither woman believes in limitations. “It’s possible to work just as hard at 60 as at 40,” says Stoll, who has been known to do 1,000 burpees in a row.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON STRETCHING AND RECOVERY?

Stoll recently added yoga to her routine, noting that you learn to take better care of your body as you get older. Nyad hasn’t caught the yoga bug, but she finds that she still recuperates as fast as she used to.

One thing they do religiously for rapid recovery is ICE: ice, compression, elevation. “It’s the miracle drug,” says Nyad.

WHAT’S YOUR BEST ADVICE FOR GETTING STARTED AT ANY AGE?

They agree that walking outside is the best way to get started on a fitness regimen and also to keep going. The only negative with walking is the time consumption, says Stoll. But Nyad suggests walking and running errands at the same time. It’s no surprise that Nyad, a MapMyRun user, doesn’t count steps as much as she counts miles.

Same with swimming — she never cared about just counting strokes…

It’s always been about the miles.

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