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Walking saved my life

Frances Singleton is so fit that her husband struggles to keep up and her grandchildren call her "fast forward granny".

At 69, Frances knows the only reason she’s still alive is because of her regular walking regime over the years.

Her heart trouble started when she was 44, while walking the Abel Tasman Track. She experienced a strange feeling of pressure on her chest and felt like she was going to be sick.

The feeling passed but when it happened again a few weeks later, while walking the Routeburn Track in Fiordland, she decided to see her GP, who referred her to a cardiologist.

“The cardiologist sat back and said to me, ‘Madam, I don’t believe a word of it, you are perfectly healthy; a fit woman of 44 doesn’t have heart problems’.”

He gave Frances blood pressure tablets and sent her home feeling like a hypochondriac.

Determined to get off the blood pressure tablets, Frances stepped up her exercise to walking 6km every morning.

“The walking made me very fit and I was able to throw away the blood pressure tablets but the feeling of pressure on my chest persisted,” she says.  

“Over the years, it came more and more often, getting to the stage where I even blacked out on several occasions.”

Eventually, when she was 60, Frances went back to her GP and said she wanted a proper heart check-up.

“The GP was reluctant as he considered me very fit and healthy but after performing some preliminary tests he realised I needed an urgent cardiologist appointment. An angiogram showed that the main artery to my heart was 100% blocked and another one was 70% blocked and had probably been like that for the last 20 years.”

The cardiologist told Frances the only reason she was still alive was because she was so fit and had walked so much. The exercise had encouraged other smaller arteries to develop and created her own bypass.

“Walking literally saved my life,” she says.

Frances had double-bypass surgery in 2006. The surgeon could see that Frances had suffered a heart attack but there was no damage to her heart.

Her surgery did the trick – Frances walked from Taylors Mistake to Boulder Bay just eight weeks after her operation, and walked the 23km-long Outer Queen Charlotte Track a year after.

“I was so pleased with myself.”

Frances says walking with her husband every morning is a habit that sets them both up for the day.

“I have no heart problems now and the years of feeling a bit anxious about my heart are over.  

“I can’t promote walking enough. I keep an eye on my cholesterol and diet but it is walking that has kept me going all these years.”