Imagine you are hiking up a mountain and you’ve found yourself separated from the group of 20. You know there are people in front of you and behind you but you can no longer see them. The sun is beating down from above, the rocks are uneven below your feet. To your left is the striking views of the city below and a steep drop off. To the right is more elevation and you are unsure of how much more there is to go. Even though you are alone, you know there are others embarking on this same journey and that support keeps you going. Part of you feels scared, but a bigger part of you feels exhilarated to be here, on this mountain, in nature. You are more aware of your surroundings: the songs of the birds, the crunch of the gravel beneath your feet, the beating of your heart. Then you reach a fork in the trail…
This was a small portion of my experience climbing Montserrat, a mountain west of Barcelona. Our destination for the day was a monastery at an elevation of 4,000 feet. Even though this hike was focused on a single destination there was beauty in the journey, which lasted 2.5 hours.
There are few times in life where we really push our bodies to what they are truly capable of. This hike was only the third time I have ever really pushed myself to determine my limits. Throughout the day, I was very aware of this and thankful for each step I took. Instead of feeling down because my body couldn’t go as fast or as easily as others, I was grateful for what I CAN do. It is a privilege to have a body that is capable of climbing mountains and adapting to new environments.
This made me more aware of others that do not have these same abilities. As an aspiring exercise physiologist, I will be constantly prescribing exercise. Many patients I work with have low cardiac function, meaning that climbing a flight of stairs is as challenging for them as climbing Montserrat was for me. Realizing has helped me feel more aware of what patients are going through when we ask them to complete a stress test, or increase the elevation on the treadmill during cardiac rehab.
Social support is a huge aspect of success in challenging situations and overcoming this adversity together really brought our group closer. Experiencing this first hand made me realize that creating a supportive environment is important in cardiac rehabilitation and doing so will lead to patients feeling like they can safely exercise at a higher intensity knowing they have the support of other members in the program.
After reaching the top, I realized that each member of the group was capable of climbing the mountain but had to do it at their own pace or in their own way. Some were faster than others, some struggled with the rocks and others had difficulty climbing stairs or steep walkways. The important thing is we all accomplished the goal. As in life and in cardiac rehab, each person has a health goal that may seem daunting at first. However, by making small changes, taking one step at a time and utilizing the support of others this goal can be reached. Each cardiac rehab patient has a different goal when starting our program, and some are at different stages of recovery than others. It is not helpful to compare oneself to others and instead enjoy the journey appreciate what your body is capable of accomplishing.