What Our Bodies Are Capable Of

Having walked approx. 850 ks of the Camino called the Via de la Plata in Spain this September/October, I learnt a heck of a lot about what our bodies are capable of.

hiking with my oh-so average body with attendant dodgy arthritic joints
hiking with my oh-so average body with attendant dodgy arthritic joints

What did I learn?

Firstly, let me clarify that when I left to go walking in Spain, I was not in fantastic physical shape.  I’m in fact an average female in her mid-fifties with attendant dodgy bits – crap left foot, left ankle, arthritic hips, a severe case of arthritis in my lower back newly confirmed by a hospital X-ray in August this year (I was so worried about carrying a rucksack but my back rallied beautifully).

As for the ability to walk 20 ks or more per day, I had practised at home for maybe 2 months walking 8 – 10 ks every other (OTHER) day.  On only 1 occasion did I attempt a longer distance – 15 ks.

Secondly, I have a history of exercise since my late teens but I wouldn’t call it constant.  More “off and on” – jogging was frequent but not for more than maybe 5 ks max generally.  Remember Richard Simmons and Jane Fonda and their aerobics?  Well I devoted years to their routines back then.  I also was a gym goer.

In my late 20s I had to walk about 5ks to work every day and back for a couple of years so that took care of that.

In my 30s I lived overseas surrounded by concrete so running led to shin splints and turned into long walks.  But then eased off.  I’m essentially lazy, really.

My 40s saw a turn to bicycling.  And so on – you get the picture.  There’s a long interrupted history of exercise but if it was ever a choice of going for a run/walk/ride OR drinks with mates, you are looking at one big lush!

The point being that it was in my cellular memory to exercise and I had the historical impression that my body was an essentially strong thing.

So here’s what I learned walking approx. 20 ks a day for 7 weeks at the age of 56:  we can DO IT!

The human body is capable of walking that distance every day.  Capable of 4-5 hours of sustained walking on a daily basis.   

Naturally, I am talking about bodies that are within the average range of mobility and health.  (And this is NOT an article about judgement or criticism.)

This is a post about WONDERMENT and DISCOVERY of our capabilities.

Now before you all jump up and down with differing opinions I want to add that I was a youngster on the trail amongst the pilgrims.

I encountered women in their 60s and 70s – there was a man who was 86!  There were men with grey hair ranging from 50s to late 80s, women on their own from 50s to late 70s, married couples in their late 60s.  To be only in my fifties meant that I was a youngie!

Of course there were even younger people on this route, but this is not an article about that age group.

We older people don’t need to look to an incapacitated ageing process – if we exercise even to half our capacity then we can keep our bodies in good nick!  When I think of the older pilgrims doing their 20-30 ks a day on the Camino I wonder about half the older folk in nursing homes or retirement villages who give up on exercise.

Our older bodies are capable of so much more than we let them do!  Wherever have you read that we should all try to walk about 10 kilometres a day!?!  or even 15?  And yet that’s how we are designed.

To be moving!  To be physical!  And a welcome by-product of exercise is that it decreases the ravages of depression.  Endorphins are activated.  Good feeling vibes are generated.

For most of us, it’s our mental attitude that keeps us sedentary – I can’t be bothered/ it’s too hot/ too cold/ (in my case) too rainy!  Whatever!

It’s been a revelation and in my next post on this topic I’m going to share what I learnt about how much food our bodies actually need if we walk 20 ks a day – totally dependent on personal metabolism of course!

Buen Camino,






About Nancy Liddle

In 2014 I walked from Seville to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, some 800 ks I walked, aged 56. I learnt that no matter what age we are, our bodies are strong work-horses. Ageing doesn't have to be the nightmare that our culture feeds us. We can be strong and vital and energetic! And meditation exercises our minds. Clearly these discoveries have impacted my life deeply.

21 thoughts on “What Our Bodies Are Capable Of

  1. But how will you keep walking that much at home? There you were going somewhere. I find that the easiest walking. The walking that just takes you back to where you started, and worse, by the same route, has less interest, can feel futile some days. What’s the plan Nancy?

    • the plan for me is 10ks every other day and a biggie on Sundays – what’s yours Jan? This is where “can’t be bothered” gets us by the throat, isn’t it? It’s Monday and having done my big walk yesterday (16 ks) I feel OK not walking today…. will tell my sorry arse to get out and about again tomorrow. Music helps.

      • I walk Nancy. I walk 3k to work most days… And get a lift home… A massive hill is in the way. I do as much incidental walking as I can too. But I do like to be going somewhere.

        • do you climb that massive hill? in my prep walk route I included some hills but have to tell you they were NOTHING in comparison to the effing MOUNTAINS we had to scale on the Camino – my lungs nearly burst, my legs nearly melted, thank gods for those walking sticks.
          having said that, there’s nothing like a hill to firm up the butt! 😀

          • Not yet. Building up to it. Did I mention it was massive? I’ve only seen one couple walk in the opposite direction to me. But it is my long term plan to walk both ways.

            How do the sticks help Nancy?

  2. I realise I didn’t say how fantastic an achievement your walk was, and how fantastic your attitude to your body now!

    • Why thanks so much Jan – it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done physically in my whole life – and a struggle some days doing it – but eventually the Camino walked me (which sounds a bit wishy washy but it’s true). Thanks for your consistent support throughout – made a difference.

      • I have lots of questions for you Nancy! I want to understand “walked me” and “it’s the journey not the destination” to a deeper level… Without doing 850km myself of course!

        • ok – re the walking sticks/poles – they are instant 4 wheel drive! they propel you along and also keep you balanced. the path is sometimes chaotic and the sticks prevented me from falling over many times. I only fell over once and that was on wet metal in a city (nearly fell into traffic!!!).
          the Camino “walked me” means that I got into a rhythm and almost without thinking just followed it trustingly – sometimes there weren’t markers so I just let go and let the path decide where my feet should go – which is the best explanation I can make at the moment. I’ll go into this further along the road in the posts.
          the “journey not the destination” is that process of how the walk is going more than reaching the end point – the walking for me was always the same – the first 4 hours OK then the pain started in for the last 2 or 3 or in some cases another 5 hours! How I handled it was the journey – arriving was the easy part! (or not on some days).

  3. I loved following along with you on your epic journey Nancy. I was so impressed with your efforts! And yes I duly noted you didn’t like to walk when it was raining! lol

    I’m 42 now and the one thing I worry about is my lack of exercise. I’m shouting myself a fitbit for Christmas and making walking and general activity my ‘thing’ for next year. We’ve walked a tonne here in Penang and I’m so grateful for that.

    Like Jan – I’ll happily walk anywhere if there is a destination. But I loathe a walk around the block just to come back to exactly where I started!

    • Ahh – now that’s a great reason for NOT walking BUT it’s not the destination that is the thing it’s the journey itself! (I just know you’re going to hate me for saying that!!!!!!) 😀

  4. Have loved following your journey Nancy and now hearing about your insights along the way and how it’s changed you…that’s what I love about travel…the chances that take place without us even being aware they are happening :-)…keep up the great work – you rock!
    PS I walk most days but only have time for 40 minutes…working full time by the time I get home go for my walk it’s then time for dinner and website stuff!

    • yes holding down a full-time job is a complete spanner in the works to my world-wide policy of all of us getting out and walking for 4 hours every (other) day. I am presently unemployed (and broke) so have all the time in the world. I completely understand your position. maybe give up dinner?????? (just kidding) 🙂

  5. Awesome! Congratulations! I am well aware that I should be moving more each day! I swim and do yoga from time to time, but when I get engrossed in a project I can spend a lot of time reclined in bed – which I believe is just plain bad for you!

    You are an inspiring woman Nancy! What is the next challenge?

    • there’s truly a time for everything Serena! I spent the months of March to July pretty much in bed this year (I was a nervous wreck because of other circumstances). Your work keeps you at your laptop – but eventually we all need to get out into the sunshine (Vitamin D) and work our bodies.
      And the hardest thing for anyone with depression (not yourself) is getting out of bed. BUT what I discovered is just how enduring my body is, how capable it is and that older people than me were stronger and faster than me – that 86 year old man for example.
      He made me realise, as did the older French women on their ownsomes, that our bodies age (yes!) but do NOT get weaker! WE ARE STRONG CREATURES.
      re the next challenge???????????? day by day living for a start! 😀

    • Wow! I hope you go – if you do you will LOVE/HATE it! it will be fantastic! by love/hate I mean that it was THE hardest physical thing I’ve ever done in my life – but now i’m home I know that I would jump at the chance to do it again – the Camino has a life of its own. I miss that time-tunnel. Let us know if and when you decide to go. and Buen Camino! 😀

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