I think that it would be appropriate, considering the title of this blog, to spend a little time talking about the benefits of walking. Simply put, walking is the act of putting one foot in front of the other, shifting your weight forward with each foot placement to propel yourself from one point to another. Well, I guess that was not so simply put. Let’s try the dictionary. Merriam-Webster tells us that to walk is to move along by foot or to advance by steps. Or, more appropriately for this post, to go by foot for exercise or pleasure.
Walking is much more than its definition would leave you with. Walking is physical health, walking is peace of mind, walking is connecting to the earth and what it gives us, walking is one of the safest, most complete and efficient forms of exercise, walking is a time to meditate and to be with your Creator. Walking is also a very good way to get from one place to another.
You might be questioning me on one point at this time. Walking is slow, where is the efficiency? How can I get ripped by walking? These, upon the surface, seem like valid questions, but walking is not the destination, only the means to move further on the journey. Walking is like a gateway drug. If you are prone to addiction, you will progress to the hard exercise that is the only cure for those type of cravings. Walking is a perfect exercise because you never do it without doing something else. If you are lifting weights, running, swimming, aerobics, pilates, whatever, you have to concentrate upon the activity itself, for safety and for effectiveness. Playing sports requires your full attention. You have been walking all your life, well, at least most of it.
( I do have a buddy who can probably claim the ability to walk for less than half of his fifty-odd years, but that is another story only slightly related to the whole exercise theme.)
The point is, your mind is always working while you’re walking, (unless we’re back to discussing my buddy), and so you are either organizing or meditating or planning or brainstorming a problem or calming your ragged nerves or any of a multitude of mental tasks that would otherwise require you to pause and devote time directly to that task. And yet you can do it while also getting exercise, changing your environment and thus stimulating new perspectives, and even getting somewhere if you have somewhere to go. What a bargain. How can we not have time for that?
The social aspect of walking is another peripheral benefit that may equal the original goal of exercise. We live in a society that seems to have devalued to importance of personal connections between neighbors and neighborhoods. If you walk around your neighborhood you are more likely to encounter and interact with your neighbors and have the opportunity to meet and perhaps direct visitors in the neighborhood.
Every day we are bombarded with examples of the very worst of the world around us to a point that we are as likely to be fearful of our neighbors, or distrustful, than we are to offer to help if we see a neighbor struggling with something. We are even suspicious of offers to help. We have let the “bad guys” control our lives by letting them convince us that almost everyone out there is a “bad guy”. Or could be. If we all knew our neighbors, we would all know that isn’t true. The only thing that holds us hostage is a few bad guys and our own acceptance of us as a nation of them. Walk around and you will see that we aren’t really like that.
The psychological benefits of walking are immeasurable. Walking eases the symptoms of depression and stress. If you walk where there are other people the social aspect of the walk can be invigorating in itself. If you walk in the woods or along a less traveled road or path, the time for introspection or meditation can carry you for miles. I walk in the mornings, generally along a logging road or a seldom traveled path to walk our three dogs. I cannot walk for long in the woods or along a wild river or on a secluded beach without feeling closer to my Creator. I use the time to pray and to reflect on the things that I put in this blog and on the stories that I write. I prize the time that I spend walking and my best ideas come when I walk. If I am stuck on something or cannot write I walk and I think and I can usually come back and attack the problem from a new angle or with a new set of tools and get on with my life. Walking has become one of my most indispensable writing tools.
I find that I cannot stay angry for long when I walk. The combination of endorphins and adrenaline along with the peaceful setting and the time to think things over and to work through the emotions without allowing them to cause any more damage just drains the anger from me. I find that as I walk, my thoughts go from what was done to me to what I could do differently in the future to change the outcome. I am no longer at the mercy of an act but in control of a solution. Anger feeds only upon the emotional side and, while it has its place and its purpose, can never survive when the intellect is wielded. Common sense and walking are, like Forrest Gump would say, like peas and carrots. I think that it would be nice if our politicians did a lot more walking, one way or another.
Our country is fighting a war against obesity. This war costs more in lives and dollars than any other war that we have ever fought. Worse than any civil war, where brother can be pitted against brother, father against son; this war is one that we are fighting against ourselves.
We can walk our way out of this conflict.
I have some statistics and some personal anecdotes on the physical benefits of walking that I will share soon. Until then, if you decide to do some walking for the benefits already discussed, be safe, consult your doctor if you have any existing health concerns, start slowly and then gradually increase both your speed and your distance to whatever goals seem right for you. Walk on a consistent schedule at least three or four times a week and you will see many positive results within the first month. Let me know.