Anyone who knows me would not think of me as very athletic or a fan of sports and exercise. Some know I like to ride horses, and that is certainly exercise, but who would guess I love to swim, walk a lot and even been known to jog on occasion?
I bring all this up because residence in Rome these past six months has allowed me to engage in long walks almost daily, which I try to do religiously, and to regularly swim.
When I was diagnosed with high blood pressure last August, I began taking Lisinopril, 20 mg daily. I was told by friends that walking might be a good form of lowering blood pressure. Earlier my doctor had suggested regularly drinking red wine if I was going to Rome. I have tried to follow all the advice given to me. The doctor also recommended not eating cheese. That has been more of a challenge, as I love cheese!
I confess that my first six months in Rome were moderately stressful, as I tried to recapture a language I hadn’t spoken in nearly thirty years, adapting to living in the city, an environment radically different from the New Mexico desert and the learning curve for the work I do here now, including some bookkeeping. All of that has taken its toll, so to speak, and walking every day has been a help in balancing the day in and day out of my new life. I have been challenged but not defeated in the process.
None of this is written in order to ask for pity, but simply to say that exercise has come to be a more regular part of my daily regime. And I am glad that it has. I feel good, lucid and upbeat. I normally am, but that took some time to resurface in the adjustment process of moving to Rome last January 13th. Summer is now here and I feel I have adjusted and settled in fine.
While I do see horses nearly every day in Rome, in the form of horse and buggy carts for tourists to ride in around the city, I have yet to actually go horseback riding. I am guessing it is not something I will regularly get to do here, though one never knows! I have already been to the top of one of the highest mountains in Europe, Monte Bianco (Mont Blanc), though the ascent was made in an enormous cable car. My breath was “taken away,” but not from exertion, only awe.
Walking is the most accessible form of exercise for me in Rome and only requires going out the door. When I do and wear a baseball cap, I presume I am pegged as a tourist and people leave me alone. When I wear a different kind of hat I am, perhaps, pegged as a local and regularly asked how to find the Jewish neighborhood (called the “Ghetto” here) or how far it is to the Coliseum.
Sometimes it is easier just to lead people to where they want to go, since my principle objective is simply to get out and walk. Otherwise I give a description, sometimes in English, sometimes in Italian and sometimes in Spanish, hoping that inquirers find their way to their desired destination.
I have seen some Youtube videos that explain what to be careful about when visiting big cities. To be avoided, the videos teach, includes people who might be overanxious to give you directions or help you out, such as when purchasing a bus or train ticket from a machine in a station. The “eager to help” may in fact be wanting your money or planning to rob you, the videos explain.
With all that in mind, I never presume to ask people, even those who may look a bit lost, what they are looking for. If they choose to ask me, I presume they must be seeing in me someone who is non-threatening to them, so are presumably ready to hear my advice or directions and even following me to the synagogue, the Isola San Bartolomeo or the Coliseum, for example.
The blistering heat of summer makes daily walking a challenge. The months of July and August are notoriously hot in Rome and it doesn’t cool off much at night. Therefore, even walking after breakfast, which I normally like to do, becomes difficult with temperatures in the70s at midmorning and in the 90s by midday. What to do? I try to go out immediately after Mass, around 8:00 am, and return to the house by 8:30 or so. Sometimes this is easier said than done, but the earlier the better in the summer heat.
The finest solution for exercise on hot days is to go swimming, of course, which I am able do on occasion. Nothing beats the heat like a few laps, even by dog paddling or on one’s back, which is more my style.
Whatever form it takes, I can see that exercise here (or anywhere for that matter) is a good thing, in reducing stress, stretching the muscles and getting some (relatively) fresh air. Growing up in Oregon I enjoyed some amount of walking and swimming during my formative years and even running “cross country” as my one and only high school sport. Then I was young, skinny and limber. At 64 I am less so in all of the categories, but never too old, I hope, to take care of the body God gave me with some form of exercise, until I can no longer do so.
My father, even as a polio survivor, used to regularly swim in the Pacific Ocean. Somehow I never got to that level and always settled on lakes, pools and ponds, for what I enjoy most in the realm of exercise, namely, swimming. Today the occasional swim in a private pool is a real “pause that refreshes,” as Coca Cola ads used to tout.
As an addendum, have you ever wondered what the Bible has to say about my favorite form of exercise, swimming? I certainly haven’t, until I wrote this essay. With a little research I found a few Sacred Scripture references to swimming, in their order of appearance in the Bible. Perhaps they are very remotely related to my essay above, but it is interesting nonetheless that the inspired authors of the Bible we cognizant of the matter of swimming.
Here is a quote from the prophet Isaiah 25:11: “And the Lord will spread out his hands in the midst of it (the enemy Moab), as a swimmer spreads his hands out to swim.”
The prophet Ezekiel 47:5, says: “Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen; it was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through” (without swimming).
from the Acts of the Apostles 27:42 and 43: “The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, lest any should swim away and escape.”
“But the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their purpose. He ordered those who could swim to throw themselves overboard first and make for the land.”