Walking with Wonder & A Long Healthy Life Free of Alzheimer’s

Mystery Fruit

After my first three years of marriage (1969), I started gaining weight and my children pretty much loved me the way I was, which was somewhere around 235 pounds. At 5 foot 8 inches that gives a Body Mass Index of 35.7 which is more than half way between simply obese and life threatening morbid obesity. With a lifetime of over over eating I finally reached morbid obesity in 2004 and I developed sleep apnea which is where you stop breathing in your sleep. Since my Father had died from obesity induced sleep apnea, my wife got worried and convinced me to diet.

I dieted on and off for the next five years and managed to hover in the obese range between 220 pounds and 240 pounds. After one of life’s stressful crises, my weight started drifting up to 245 pounds. Then my daughter and niece intervened with tough love and suggested (demanded) a lifestyle change of less food and more structured exercise.

Less food turned out to be easier than I thought as I used all my mental energy to be creative and scale down meals to just enough for one hungry person and figured out how to cook gourmet meals in my coffeepot. Reducing my food consumption turned out to be a lot easier than developing an exercise program that I could adapt with the passion I had for potion controlled meals in my coffeepot.

In my other blog, coffeepotcooking.wordpress.com, I document the past two years of steady progress as I dropped 101 pounds and I have now compiled that journey into a Kindle ebook entitled “An Introduction to Coffeepot Cooking: How I Lost 101 Pounds with Portion Controlled Meals.” The book is also available in other ebook formats but I highly recommend downloading the free Kindle Reader and getting the Kindle book from Amazon even though I make less money on that purchase.

When I started exercising, I was ashamed to be seen in public so I started at home with the gym equipment that I have purchased in support of other failed diets. Frankly I was bored by it and don’t have all of the proper equipment. After losing 15 pounds, I was starting to get encouragement from supportive friends and was no longer ashamed to join a gym.

The Gym was only slightly better because of all the equipment and the coach who gives you constant attention when you first join, but like most people I eventually began to get bored with the concept of doing the same thing over and over and I began to feel like Sisyphus pushing the rock up the hill for eternity. When my doctor discoverer a degenerated disc in my neck which needed to be replaced, he warned against all impact exercises including the treadmill at high speeds. We compromised that I could walk as much as I wanted so I quit the gym and started walking.

I always enjoyed walking and when I was a young engineer, I learned the concept of “Managing by Walking Around.” As I adapted this to my personality, I began to use all of my senses to watch, listen, feel and even smell problems as they started and before they became catastrophic. I made my walking around very social and listened carefully to workers and their concerns. It seemed that no one else had taken the time to ask for solutions and once I gave the workers credit, they were coming to me with improvements to process that I thought were running well. I even got raises and got bonuses for essentially waking around and talking to people even though I gave all the credit to the originator of the idea and was having fun doing my job.

When I started walking on the roads and paths of St. Croix, I wasn’t looking for problems and I wasn’t getting paid. My natural curiosity just kicked in and I started wondering about all the ruins, who built them and why were they abandoned and destroyed. I started looking at the abandoned vehicles and equipment and having the same questions. When brand new all of this was somebody’s dreams and aspirations. I searched the human history of each area I walked and talked to people to find out what they knew.

I also started looking at the flowers and fruits on all the vines, shrubs, plants and trees. St. Croix is an isolated island with thousands of plant species. The closest major land mass with rivers is about 700 miles away and we only have a few migratory bird species. It is highly improbable that more than a hundred plant species would have survived a journey of 700 miles at sea and there is less than a hundred seeds that are important as bird food that could have been brought here as undigested waste.

Pretty much there are thousands of plants on St. Croix that did not evolve here or come naturally by sea or air and most likely were brought here by the human inhabitants to fill some need. I recognized that developers had brought in Florida tropical flowers to beautify their projects and that farmers had brought in agricultural plants for animal feed and for cash crops. The is also an extensive local lore of medicinal and spiritual plants that the enslaved Africans brought along to bind them to their homeland.

St. Croix lacks a direct connection to the Caribs and Tiano as the island was abandoned by all Amerindian groups around 1600. However, in the 1960’s and 1970’s with the arrival of West Indians from Jamaica to Trinidad, the knowledge of the Carib and Tiano medicinal plants was reintroduced to St. Croix. When I asked Olassie Davis, from the University of the Virgin Islands, what percentage of our plants are biologically active and important to the people who had historically occupied the Islands, his simple answer was “all of them”. My research shows that for plants that are widely distributed around the globe, he is absolutely correct.

Dhatur, Angle Trumpet or Joy Juice

The plant shown at the top of the page just appeared to me for the first time on a walk this year and the first thing I noticed was the green of the leaves was much darker than the rest of the vegetation in the area. It was hard to miss the flower pods which were vertical and similar to what I knew to be Angle Trumpet. I lacked the time to research this further so took the easy way to knowledge.

I found a man picking it one morning and he said he liked it because it was beautiful and a deadly poison. I asked the name and he could only tell me in Hindi that it was Dhatur. That was more than enough to find out that this plant was a hallucinogen with spiritual and recreational uses in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia with no one quite sure where it originated. It’s use has been documented for hundreds of years but because of the dangerous side effects, it is illegal to own, grow or use it in many countries. It was used in Animal Transformation rituals in Africa, Central America and even Europe up until the 1600’s when they tried 50,000 people in Europe and burned them at the stake for being Werewolves.

I don’t know why I felt compelled to learn about that plant but it is fun to know. I share this type of knowledge with the visitors to St. Croix who use my hiking services on my scheduled hikes. I share our history of all that I have researched including our Amerindians, the Pirates who make St. Croix among the top most important Pirate Islands in History, the Europeans and Africans. I describe them all in terms of the ruins, archaeological sites and the plants the left behind. I also share this new information with my regular walking companions on the days I am not scheduled to walk with visitors.

So for me the elements of Walking With Wonder started with a good diet and walking as an exercise. This tied directly into using computer research to find new recipes, then calculating smaller portion controlled meals and cooking them in my coffeepot. Since I was already on the computer, it was only natural that I started learning answers to ever question that I was asked on my walks. The funny thing is every person I walked with had a different focus. Some only wanted to rear about geology, some wanted pirates, some wanted Amerindians, some wanted knowledge of the Plantation era and Slavery and some wanted to know about flowers. I wanted to know it all. The only area I never got interested in was birds except for some of our really spectacular ones.

The more I was asked, the more I researched and the more I shared with my friends. This evolved into Hike St. Croix with Poppa John so I now share my love of my island with friends, family and visitors and I keep learning more from every hike because there always seem to be new questions.

My initial lifestyle changes were focused on eating less, exercising more and losing weight which were all excellent goals because morbid obesity is associated with a substantially increased risk of chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. In effect I have reduced the chances of a slow, lingering and painful death.

Along the way, I find that I am doing more social walking with others, so unlike the Gym, I am always interacting with people and have less chance of getting bored and look forward to my next hike with visitors. I also talk to the people I meet along the way. Some ignore you and some develop into friends but you can’t tell which is which until you say that first hello. When I walk alone, I walk slower and try to be a stronger observer of things I may have missed in the past. If I have a hike with out of shape people, I walk slowly, talk more and hope that everybody has a good time. Afterwards, I burn energy with yard work or another long walk.

I walk every day , and every week I walk a minimum of 16 miles and it is usually closer to 25 miles. Four times a year, I walk between 15 and 26 miles on a single day in addition to my regular walking. I also do heavy yard work and home repairs. I have regular heart checks and an annual physical. So my healthy lifestyle is leading to a longer life and a higher quality of life except for fear of Alzheimer’s. It is bad enough that I have ADHD and that forgetfulness increases with age as a symptom of that disease but I observed the deterioration in my Mother-in-law as she lived to be 103 and not remembering a day in the last twenty years of her life. There is a huge difference between a long life and a long desirable life.

A little research shows that the top lifestyle changes that you can make to minimize Alzheimer’s are;

1. Engage in Regular exercise
2. Eat a healthy diet
3. Engage in mentally stimulating activities
4. Maintain your proper weight
5. Have an active social life
6. Enjoy quality sleep
7. Attempt stress management

It would appear that my diet and “Walking with Wonder” insure that I comply with the first 5 items on the list. I sleep very soundly eight hours a day and have almost all my life. Part of it is the wine I drink every night and part of it is my high energy burn as long as I weigh less than 235 pounds.

As to stress management, I take my blood pressure medicine and a combination of factors seem to have reduced my worry and anxiety levels, probably not the least of which is the intense focus on research which prevents me from dwelling on problems. The end result is that I am taking one quarter of the level of blood pressure medicine that I did two years ago and I have much lower blood pressures. I would have to consider reduced stress as a side benefit of “Walking with Wonder” without a real direct connection.

Join me on your next trip to St. Croix or start “Walking with Wonder” in your own neighborhood.

Copyright 2012, John A. Boyd

About John Boyd

I have been hiking the hills and beaches of St. Croix Virgin Islands for over 30 years and in retirement have decided to become a Heritage Hiking Guide specializing in the local history, geology, settlers, plant life and environmental changes by all settlers of the last 2000 years but just along the trails I hike.
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5 Responses to Walking with Wonder & A Long Healthy Life Free of Alzheimer’s

  1. Poppa John says:

    Reblogged this on Coffee Pot Cooking and commented:
    This coffeepot cooking blog is about preparing and eating portion controlled meals as part of my lifestyle change. It would seem I’m on track to live a long and healthy life. But I don’t want to do that and end up with a slow lingering death due to Alzheimer’s. It would seem that my natural lifestyle changes are also reducing the risk of that dreaded disease.

  2. Lagan Pillay says:

    Hello there! Quick question that’s entirely off topic. Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly? My site looks weird when viewing from my apple iphone. I’m trying to
    find a theme or plugin that might be able to correct this problem.
    If you have any recommendations, please share. Cheers!

    • John Boyd says:

      Sorry for the delay, been on vacation with my granddaughters. Not sure of your standard, but if my site looks ok on a mobile phone, its because I pay the $17 a year to WordPress for hikestcroix.com and let them do my hosting.

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