Friday, October 30, 2015

Number crunching - exercise heart rates

While I was walking my 2 miles on the treadmill on Wednesday evening, I was thinking about what my "target heart rate" should be if I want to achieve full aerobic benefits. There are a couple of popular formulae available on the Internet, a newer one (Karvonen) which takes your resting heart rate into account (as well as your age). The older formula simply uses your age. You calculate your maximum heart rate, then (depending on your objective) you use a percentage of that to calculate your target heart rate.

For me, being almost (be not quite) 50, the numbers work out as follows:

Old formula

Start off with 220. Deduct my age (so, 220-50=170). That's my maximum heart rate.
Multiple by the desired training intensity which, for me, is 70% (so, 170 x .70 = 119)

New formula

Start off with 220. Deduct my age (so, 220-50=170). That's my maximum heart rate.
Now, deduct my resting heart rate (so 170 - 80 = 90). That's my heart rate reserve. 
Next, multiply my heart rate reserve by the desired training intensity (so, 90 x .70 = 63)
Then, add back in the resting heart rate (so, 63 + 80 = 143)

For a moderate workout, where your breathing quickens but you are not out of breath (you can still easily carry on a conversation), and you get a light sweat after ten minutes, you should aim for a training intensity of between 60% to 70%. For a more vigorous workout, where you are taking deep and rapid breaths (you can't speak very much) and you are sweating after just a few minutes, you should aim for a training intensity of between 70% to 80%. Athletes in good condition can aim to reach 85% of their maximum heart rate. 

More to follow ...

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Another good Wednesday

2.0 miles on the treadmill on Wednesday evening; plus an hour of swimming afterwards, and an overall total of over 10,000 steps for the day. Hooray!
49 minutes on the treadmill, walking 2 miles (3.2 km)
Afterwards, my feet and knees were sore, but I slept REALLY well last night.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Frankenfood (part 1)

I've mentioned Michael Pollan's name before on the main website (, but one of his 7 Rules for Eating is: "Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can't pronounce".

So, I was in the cafeteria at work this lunchtime when I noticed that my "oven baked" Ruffles, with "65% less fat" had a horrific list of ingredients.
Cheddar and Sour Cream oven baked Ruffles with 65% less fat
Sounds healthy, right? With words like "oven baked" and "65% less fat", but look at those artificial and unpronounceable ingredients. Yikes!

I don't eat chips very often any more but it reminded me that about a year ago I made my own potato chips at home. Now, before you write to tell me that, technically, Ruffles are "Potato Crisps" and not potato chips, I know. The food industry is SO powerful that they can dance rings around regulatory authorities and get away with deceiving consumers on a MASSIVE scale, which leads their customers to have MASSIVE readings ON the scales. Kraft Foods are one of the worst offenders. People who know me well will know that I try as hard as possible to avoid buying Kraft products.

My homemade chips were made using a mandolin with real potato, a quick spritz of cooking spray to prevent them from sticking to the plate (it's fake, I know) and a few minutes in the microwave.

When you make them yourself, you don't need many actual potatoes to produce a huge plate full of chips. The Ruffles came in a bag whose net weight was only 0.8 ounces (22.6 g) - not even a whole ounce!

October target met!

356.2 pounds (161.5 kg)
356.2 pounds! I didn't think I was going to do it in time but I did. After being stalled for large parts of October, the momentum is with me again. Now onward to my November goal - 341 lbs by my birthday (November 28th. Hint: I love to receive cards in the mail).

The ultimate goal is to be a "normal" 178 pounds (81 kg) by my next birthday, when I'll be 50 years old. At 5'10" (1.78 m) tall, that would still leave me with a BMI of almost 25, but I don't care about that. I haven't been 178 lbs since I was in my early 20s, I'm pretty sure.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Overeating - It's a psychological battle

One of the things I am continuing to struggle with is overeating. I think I'm doing okay on the composition of the food I'm eating but sometimes I just can't stop myself from eating a lot more than I know I should. I haven't figured out the trick, yet, to moderating my intake so that I stop eating before I get uncomfortably full. Once I can do that, I'm sure the pounds will simply tumble off again.

A little bit like knowing (in my head) that sitting on the couch wasn't burning enough calories to help me lose anything - even though I was free to get up at ANY TIME and go out for a walk - this overeating thing is a mental game. I know that if I'm eating things that require more chewing I'll slow down and give my stomach's stretch receptors a chance to tell my brain to make me stop eating. Otherwise, I tend to eat too quickly and my body doesn't have a chance to shout STOP!

Maybe there are some rituals I can adopt that will help me slow down and eat less. Most of the time I'm eating on my own these days (sad about that, but that's a whole other story). During the week I usually take breakfast to work with me, since I leave the apartment at 06:15 and that's just too early to have breakfast. About half the time I'll take leftovers or something from home for lunch, which is from 11:00 to 12:00. The rest of the time I'm lucky to have a good cafeteria at work. Dinner is usually either a salad (which can be quite substantial) or something cooked - if I have/make the time to prepared it.

Divided dish
I have a couple of Corelle divided dishes which make it easier to get the proportions of proteins, carbs and vegetables right. That doesn't seem to help. I just fill it up twice!

There have got to be some 'tricks' that one can play on oneself that make it

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Losing weight again and making strides

Yesterday was a fantastic day for getting back on track with the weight loss, and for squeezing in a large number of steps.
Losing weight again and making strides

Four months ago I was just a tad over 400 pounds (181 kg). In the next three months I lost close to 40 lbs (18 kg) then got stuck for about three weeks at the 362 lb mark, give or take a pound or two.

Yesterday, I tackled a large number of stairs at work (see, plus I went to the gym and walked on the treadmill for a while and went swimming for an hour. At the end of the day I had clocked up 10,200 steps! I haven't done that in a long time. Occasionally, I'll hit 8,000, but my usual average is about 6-7,000 steps. My feet and calves felt tired and I slept really well last night.

I know that if I'm going to achieve my goals for next year I'm going to have to do this many more times but I'm prepared for that. The stakes are too high to fail or to give up.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Climbing stairs

A week and a half ago I talked about stair climbing at work. I've been keeping track of the numbers of flights climbed up and down since then, and you can see those numbers at Today, for the first time, I timed myself going up and down all three sets of stairs and returning to where I'd started. It took 1 minute 35 seconds. That'll be my baseline from which I can measure all future progress. I suppose once I'm able to sprint up and down in under 30 seconds I'll have to change the challenge to be SIX flights (two complete sets) instead. But, for now, this will do.

It came in handy that I've started this stair climbing malarkey because we had our Great ShakeOut earthquake drill today, and I was able to keep up with everyone on the stairs as we all filed out of the building and all went back in. I still get out of breath but I expect that'll improve soon. I just can't give up!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Dusting off an old wish list (part 2)

At the end of last week I posted about dusting off an old wish list, and mentioned things like dancing, and gardening, and marathon running, and bike riding, and climbing Mount Hood in Oregon. I never got to finish that story. If you couldn't already tell, I like to talk and I have a lot to say.

When I was living in England for the year between 2006 and 2007, I made some inquiries about learning to dance. I found someone who really wanted me to learn Salsa dancing. Apparently, it's a very high energy way to have fun and burn lots of calories. If I had stayed there, I might have pursued it. Now, it's something to aim for but I'll have to start with something a lot more gentle.

I have an ongoing interest in gardening too; both from a practical food supply point of view and from an outdoor, fresh air, activity perspective. At this precise moment I don't have easy access to a backyard or a garden, although I am maintaining quite a collection of indoor plants. My desire would be - some day - to have a large organic fruit and vegetable garden somewhere in the fertile Willamette valley of Oregon. When I was living in California, back in 2010, I started a vegetable garden from scratch, using a heavy mechanical tiller and manually turning over the soil with a spade.
Beans, tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, lettuce and other things - Chico, Ca., 2010

It was hard, physical work. I will probably never be as prolific as my English granddad, or my dad, but I'd like to be able to manage it physically without my stomach hanging in the way, and without getting out of breath so quickly.

When I was in my 20s (two decades ago), I used to run for fun. My favorite places was in Nottingham (in England) which had some great canal paths and such next to the tranquil River Trent. I never entered any competitive races, just ran recreationally. I always imagined that my first 'race' would be the Robin Hood marathon in September. Maybe, one day, I'll do it. To begin with though I'll be content to do my hiking at a slower pace and work my way up to 26.1 miles steadily. There have to be some seniors' races that I will eventually qualify to enter, right?

I used to cycle to work when I was living in Chico, CA. IT was an 11 mile round trip from home to two local schools and back home again. It was a good workout, and the weather in northern California was always really good for it. I have a bike now (thanks to a dear friend) which is in a closet, waiting for the day when my stomach isn't dangling in the way. One thing for me to look forward to when : being able to increase my radius of operation, so that I can reach more places more quickly (quicker than I can on foot as a pedestrian, anyway).

Okay, so the Mount Hood thing might actually be beyond me, I don't know. I try to draw inspiration from adventurer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who has achieved SO many great things, pushing himself so hard even at an age when other have retired and chosen a sedentary lifestyle. Check out his website for details:

Sunday, October 18, 2015

2 mile walk around Centennial Park today

I was pretty pleased with my walk today: 2 circuits (2 miles, 3.2 km) around Centennial Park in Helena. The last couple of times I had walked there, at the beginning of this year, I was only able to do a half mile, and I was having to stop a few times to catch my breath. Today, I stopped after the first circuit to have a drink but otherwise did it in one go in about 55 minutes. It was very cloudy and the temperature was in the low 70s °F (about 22 °C) with very little wind. I clocked up almost 5,000 steps, which is a good starting point from which to measure future progress. My plan is to do this weekly, going faster and/or further each time.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Dusting off an old wish list

Years ago, I used to make lists of things I wanted to achieve in the coming months and years. It wasn't a bucket list, which sounds so terminal to me, but these weren't really New Year's resolutions either. They were just concrete examples of things to aim for. Number one on the list was always to lose weight, of course. Sometimes I would even write down my current (at that time) and projected future weight. Then there were the activities I wanted to do, either as a means of reaching the weight loss goal, or ones that would again be possible once I'd shed the 50 or 100 pounds needed to reach it. As my weight has fluctuated up and down over the years, some of these things have seemed more or less ridiculous. Here are some of them:

  • learn to dance (maybe ballroom, later something more energetic like Salsa)
  • have an abundant organic garden
  • run a marathon
  • ride a bicycle regularly, and a tandem would be fun
  • climb Mount Hood in Oregon
Now that I am "on the wagon" again - in a weight loss sense, not to do with abstaining from alcohol - it's time for me to dust off those lists and start thinking about a brighter future again in which these things are once again possible. For me, having an end in sight helps me on the journey to that end. If I want to run a marathon, for example, I know I'm not going to be able to hop out of bed tomorrow and run 26.1 miles (42 km) just like that. I know that I'll have to get into good enough shape that I can run at all without getting out of breath. Then I'll have to run 1 mile, then 3 miles (5 km), then 6 miles (10 km), then 10 miles, then a half-marathon (13 miles). Finally, after sufficient training, I will be ready to tackle the entire 26.1 miles.

I was never a confident dancer in my youth. Years ago (like, maybe, 18 years or so), I took some classes in Irish dancing. Michael Flatley I was not! (Michael Flatfoot, perhaps). Then, about six years ago, I used to take my daughter contra dancing (similar to square dancing). It required a lot of energy and stamina. I can't imagine doing it now - I'd collapse after about 30 seconds - but it's fun and a good way to burn up calories and energy.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Trying to get off this plateau

In my last post I had said, "I've hit a plateau. After 13 consecutive weeks of losing weight, down almost 40 lbs [18 kg] in three months, I've been stuck at the same level (more or less) for two weeks now". Here it is in graphical form.
The dots are the actual weight. The solid line is some sort of trend line (that I can't get rid of from the chart). I'm hoping that a renewed effort of not overeating, and some extra stair climbing and extra walking will enable me to get back under 360 lbs (163 kg). 

I was talking to a friend recently about the idea that you have to eat everything on your plate, and the psychology behind that. I was saying that in my dad's generation (my dad was born and raised in England just after WWII) there was still food rationing. Sugar was restricted to 8 oz per week until September 1953 (, nine years after World War II ended! I grew up in the 1970s, long after food rationing had ended, but in an era when our parents would say things like, "There are starving kids in Africa who would do anything to eat your leftovers". 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Getting outside but still overeating

From the South Hills of Helena, looking north
From the South Hills of Helena, looking north at dusk
With an ambitious plan to hike 100 miles in seven days at the end of next May, I have to really pull out all the stops to get myself into a physical condition to do it. That means NOT sitting on the couch all evening but actually going out for walks and hikes after work and at weekends, pushing myself physically. Right now, it's difficult for me to go uphill or up any stairs without getting short of breath quickly.

Having decided to make a 'game' out of climbing the stairs at work, today (for the first time in ages) I actually walked down and up two flights. It's not much but it's a beginning. From here on out all future progress can be measured and compared.

My Amazon Prime Pantry box
What's still disappointing is that I'm still overeating at dinner time. It all started two weeks ago when I took delivery of my first Amazon Prime Pantry box. It was $100 worth of groceries packed in a 4 cubic foot (max 45 lbs - 20 kg) cardboard box  for a flat fee of $5.99 (although my delivery fee was waived because of a special promotion). Then I went to Costco, which is great for large families and small businesses, but bad for single people who are trying to eat less. That cost me $100. I was still missing a few things, so I stopped at Safeway and picked up another $50 worth of groceries. Dang! $250 spent on groceries in one week when I normally spend only $100. Now, some of the extra food went into my freezer and some of it was cans and jars which will keep in the cupboard for a while, but my fridge was heaving with fresh food that couldn't be wasted and couldn't all be eaten. Ever since then I've hit a plateau. After 13 consecutive weeks of losing weight, down almost 40 lbs in three months, I've been stuck at the same level (more or less) for two weeks now.

Monday, October 12, 2015

First impressions - trekking poles

Last Monday I received my new trekking poles, so I've been using them for a week now. Here are my first impressions.

80% carbon fiber, very lightweight
Each pole weighs 8 ounces (220 grams). That was one reason why I chose poles that are made of 80% carbon fiber. They have EVA foam handles, not cork, which means they are slightly shock absorbent and allegedly sweat absorbent too, although my hands haven't sweated with them yet so I can't verify that claim.

Each pole has a pair of flip locks with large pressure-adjusting screws that let you change the length of the pole from 24" to 52" (61 to 132 cm). At 5'10" tall (1.78 m), I have mine set to either 46" (115 cm) or 48" (120 cm), which gives me a nice, ergonomic arm angle at my elbows. I've read that 2/3 of your height is about right, which is consistent with my own findings. If I'm going TO work (downhill) I'll make them slightly longer; if I'm coming home FROM work (uphill) I'll make them shorter. Either way, you can tell if they're too long because the tips will drag on the ground.

The first word that comes to mind, after using them for a week, is: stability. Having two extra points of contact with the ground, I feel much more balanced and steady on my feet - not that I was rolling around like a drunkard before, but I can imagine it will be a lot safer in the snow and ice of the coming winter. You can take off the rubber tips and leave durable tungsten steel tips that will be really helpful in staying upright.

The second thing I noticed: speed. With the consistent rhythm that you employ with your arms, you increase your speed, almost without noticing it. My time to walk home was reduced from 28 minutes down to 25 minutes one day, which was fantastic. I wasn't stopping as often to catch my breath because I was able to use some of my upper body strength to push myself forward. Carrying a heavy load was also slightly easier.

I wasn't sure how easy it would be to get a good rhythm going, and to avoid tripping over the poles. As it happened, the rhythm came naturally (two steps for every pole movement) and they are lightweight enough that they are easy to place accurately, even when walking at a normal speed. So far I've only had one minor incident when the flip lock wasn't tight enough (hence the adjustable thumb screw) and the pole shortened itself while I was putting weight (pushing down) on it. It was trivially easy to tighten the screw and flip the lock back and carry on.

I added some reflective tape to my poles since my morning walking, and soon my evening walking, is in the dark. At this time, I'd say that my $50 was well spent. The poles do what they were designed to do. Despite their super light weight they seem pretty durable. I shall continue to use them on a daily basis and look forward to taking them with me on the PCT next May.

A healthy obsession

Several of my friends have heard me describe my quest to lose weight and get fit again as an obsession but, pun intended, it's a healthy obsession. Almost everything I do these days makes me think of healthy exercise or healthy food or something to do with losing weight in some way. It's a bit like the old cliché of men thinking about sex every seven seconds. My challenge to myself (and you, dear reader, if you choose to accept it) is to turn that obsession into a tangible way of REALLY improving our health, in real life, not just in our heads.

I've been thinking about the stairs at my workplace. I work on the second floor of a three-storey building. There are two elevators (lifts) and two sets of stairs, one of which is almost right outside my office door. If I were being super health conscious, I would be climbing up and down those stairs all day long and never using the elevator. But, right now, the percentage of time that I use the stairs is, ... oh,... 0%! I know that if I climb up the stairs (down isn't too bad) I will be out of breath after just one flight. It'll take me a few seconds to recover. Two flights would be much more difficult. Three would be almost impossible.

Yesterday, I climbed the 200 foot high Buttercup Hill which is up the street from my apartment, for just the second time ever. I was with my friend Marie who must have wondered what the puffing and panting noise was. That was me. I hated to have anyone see me that way, but I know she is also a supporter and a friend who knows that it won't always be that way.

When I was doing the laundry at my apartment today, the washer and dryer are in a room on the floor below mine. As I was coming up the stairs, my neighbor (thanks, R) said to me, "Oh, you sound like me when I climb the stairs!" What! No way! ... Um, sadly yes. So, my course is clear,...

I'm going to have to start climbing the stairs at work during my morning and afternoon breaks. Perhaps only a few flights at first (and by "a few" I could mean just one or two, in the beginning). Eventually, the plan would be to increase my strength and stamina so that I can climb all three floors with no noticeable shortage of breath. It's not going to be quick but then, in this endeavor, nothing is ever quick. It can become a game - see how many flights of stairs I can climb in ten minutes, or how fast I can get from the basement to the top floor. The idea would be to improve my performance consistently over time so that I can eventually get to the top without sounding like I just ran a marathon. Watch this space!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

New shoes

Merrell Moab Ventilator hiking shoes
With the increased amount of walking I've been doing these past few months, and with winter approaching, it was time to get some new shoes. The choices were overwhelming, and I'd read tons of reviews of different brands. In the end, I plumped for some Moab Ventilators from Merrell. With an average Amazon rating of 4.5 stars, and 2,365 reviews, they are very popular; and they were available locally at our Base Camp ("Gear for the Great Outdoors") store, where I was able to try them on for size.

In the past, I've always struggled when buying new shoes. They never usually fit perfectly, or I resent having to spend so much money for them (I've actually had a lot of success in the past with $3 pre-owned shoes from the Goodwill store). This time, I saw what I wanted, I knew my size, and the first time I tried them on it was like a scene from a Cinderella movie. The fit was perfect.

Knowing that I am going to have a lot of hiking to do locally in preparation for my PCT adventure, I also bought a trail map of the Helena South Hills. This morning I walked up Buttercup Hill just up the street from where I live. The shoes performed really well, as expected, with no heel or toe rubbing or other discomfort. It was only a short hike, but a good initial test in the real world.

Excited that my daughter will be joining me on the PCT next May

I had mentioned to my daughter, Birdie, about a week ago that I planned to walk 100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in southern Oregon next spring and she was excited for me. I had casually invited her along too, not thinking that she would be able to take the time off work or be interested in traveling 800 miles just to go walking for seven straight days. When I spoke to her on Friday evening, she was really gung-ho about the prospect of going with me! I was thrilled. It'll be a great opportunity for us to build memories together and have some father-daughter bonding time. It'll also mean I don't have to hike the trail alone which will be safer for me. And I'll have someone to talk to during that time so that I don't go crazy.

Many of the hard-core through hikers of the PCT, 90% of whom will be travelling northbound (nobos), will still be roasting their hinies in California at the end of May, so I don't expect there'll be many other people on the trail when I'm planning to be there. Although the nighttime temperatures by then will be in the low 40s °F (mid-single digits in °C) there will still be snow in the ground in parts of the Crater Lake National Park in late May, I think; hopefully just not on the bits that we'll be on!

The bonding thing with Birdie reminds me that it will soon be ten years ago (it was Presidents Day, so mid-February) that she and I spent a couple of frozen nights together in a rustic Forest Service cabin in the middle of nowhere. That was fun too.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Walked 1.2 miles to Safeway and back

Normally, when I walk the 0.7 miles to work, and the same distance home again (except it's uphill then!) I can get about 6,000 steps in my day. Today, on a day off from work, I walk to my local Safeway and back (1.2 miles each way), including carrying a very heavy backpack on the way home (uphill, remember!). I managed to clock up 8,000+ steps today.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Appointment with exercise coach cancelled - I'm annoyed

I just got a call from the state employees' health center. My appointment with the exercise coach, scheduled for next week, has been cancelled. The only alternative now is a consultation over the phone. What kind of phoney baloney is that! I want to see a real live person so that I can ask them lots of questions and get answers that are easy for me to understand.

I wanted specific guidance on how best to use the new latex resistance exercise bands I have. If I wanted just generic advice, I can get that from YouTube and the rest of the Internet.  Well, I'm not going to let that stop me. I already have the bands, and I also have a couple of 1 gallon jugs (which used to have Arizona tea in them, sugar-free, of course), filled with water and weighing 8.6 lbs each. So, I can start working on a daily strength-building regime. As an experiment, I filled the jugs with dry sand to see how much they weighed - 12.2 lbs each. When my now self-devised weightlifting program calls for it in the future, I can add water to the dry sand and probably reach 15 or 16 lbs.

The idea would be to add an extra dimension to my exercise program. Walking and swimming are good, but I feel like I need to have some muscle building and shaping too.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Big plan for next year - PCT in 2016

The long walk movie trifecta is complete. I recently watched three different movies about the life-changing experiences of people tackling long treks:
  1. A Walk In The Woods, based on the book by travel writer Bill Bryson, in which Robert Redford takes a long-lost old friend, played outstandingly well by Nick Nolte, for a hike along the 2,200 mile (3,540 km) Appalachian Trail.
  2. The Way, in which Martin Sheen plays an American father who travels to France to claim the body of his estranged son who died at the start of the 500 mile (800 km) trek along the Camino de Santiago through the Pyrenees in northern Spain.
  3. Wild stars Reese Witherspoon, who plays a recently-bereaved and divorced woman who briefly experiments with heroin. With no outdoors experience, a heavy backpack and little else to go on but her own desire to put her life back together again, Cheryl sets out alone to hike the 2,663 mile (4,286 km) long Pacific Crest Trail.
After my earlier post about trekking, I got to thinking (can be dangerous, I know!) that I should make a plan to walk part of the Pacific Crest Trail (! In my excitement about losing weight, I had been telling my friend Emily about seeing A Walk In The Woods.

This was the brief e-mail I sent to Emily:
Three words: Pacific Crest Trail
Not this year but some time next year, and not the whole thing, just the bit in southern Oregon.
Just today I saw a story about a Seattle-area woman doing the Appalachian Trail unsupported in 54 days or something...
I'd love to see Crater Lake in southern Oregon some time, so this seems like a perfect time to do both: hiking and sightseeing. By the end of May next year (in seven-and-a-half months' time) I should be able to manage 15 miles a day for seven days, making the overall trip about 100 miles.

I spent the last weekend looking at Amtrak train schedules and checking out the cost of equipment and trying to imagine myself riding home on the train having successfully accomplished my mission. Even if I don't make it all happen (but I will), at least the preparation can be used as a form of motivation, where I can build up my strength and stamina in a focused way, with intermediate goal and targets.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Trying out walking with trekking poles

I've sometimes wondered if I would be comfortable using trekking poles while I'm walking. I know that a vast majority of long-distance walkers use them, and even some casual walkers. My journey to work is only about 0.7 miles (1.1 km), which is hardly the Appalachian Trail, but the poles might inspire me to tackle more challenging walks in the future. Going TO work is downhill for me; coming home again is uphill, with an elevation difference of almost exactly 100 feet (31 m).

According to several studies, trekking poles reduce the impact on knee joints and leg muscles, especially when going downhill, by between 20-25%. Having two extra points of contact with the ground, they significantly increase your traction and help with balance on loose surfaces and snow/ice.

Trekking poles allow your arms to help propel you forward and upward, and help improve your upright posture and breathing. Walking with poles can also help you establish and maintain a consistent rhythm, which can increase your speed.
My new trekking poles, 80% carbon fiber, very lightweight
My new trekking poles, 80% carbon fiber,
very lightweight

They can help to defend yourself against attacks from dogs and other wild animals.

My new ones will be here on Monday afternoon, so I'll be able to report back on my first impressions then and, later on, write about my feelings on their long-term usefulness.