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walking is good for you

“Cheese Man” all smiles walking knee deep through a stream.

walking helps you think

Beethoven, Darwin, Dickens, Einstein – some of the greatest minds who walked this earth, actually walked this earth every day for inspiration.

Though they didn’t have the sorts of distractions we have these days, one study suggests that turning off our phones and taking a walk in nature, can increase our creativity and problem-solving skills by a whopping 50%!

Curious to me, is that for Beethoven et al. it was not walking hard and fast that nudged their greatest and most inspired ideas, but rather a leisurely pace.

That correlates with another recent study no of women walkers in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association. Intensity while walking is far less important than the number of steps taken. The data shows that its simply walking that helps us live better and longer, irrespective of how hard we push.

walking can save your spirit

This morning I stumbled upon some articles about women walkers from history who “strolled” to health – both physical and mental. Simone de Beauvoir, author of the feminist existentialist manifesto, The Second Sex, felt banished to the ends of the earth when she began teaching in a wee village near Marseilles.

It was hiking that saved her spirit.

I love that she hiked alone, rejecting “the semiofficial rig of rucksack, studded shoes, and rough skirt,” instead traveling in an old dress and espadrilles. Never a sentimentalist, walking helped her create work that contained not the ecstasies of a travel-writer, but rather the clearing out and discipline required of someone changing the language of what it means to be a woman.

Similarly, Sarah Hazlitt, the tossed-aside wife of English essayist William Hazlitt, found relief from lawyer’s offices and the degradation of a tawdry divorce proceeding when walking the Scottish highlands. Faced with a crisis in her personal life and an uncertain future, she found respite in long, arduous and often dangerous walks.

A woman walking alone was almost unheard of in the Nineteenth century. My eyes widen reading of her physically taxing and often dangerous sojourns of up to thirty miles per day, when simple pleasures like eating, bathing and sleeping were all she dreamed of at day’s end – just like a modern day thru-hiker.

walking is doctor’s orders

As the Father of Western Medicine, Hippocrates, once said, Nature itself is the best physician. According to a paper published this month in the journal Scientific Reports, the loop of time we need walking in nature is not long – but is critical to good health.

That amount of time? 120 minutes each week!

I walked up Summit Avenue near my home in Saint Paul last night, a reasonably natural setting in my small city. It’s flat and easy sidewalk all the way to the Mississippi River, but when my mom called me on my cell, I noticed that I was still breathing heavier than if I was sitting on my couch while we talked. Just that much movement is enough to get the system going and produce a cascade of health benefits, like a reduced risk of heart disease, the number one killer in the United States.

In Scotland, doctors know walking to be one of the fastest, easiest and cheapest avenues to good health. So they give doctor’s orders by actually prescribing getting outdoors into nature. The script simply reads walk for self-care.

walking focuses the mind

Walking is a form of weight-bearing exercise. You’re carrying yourself upright when walking – and you are balancing that weight using your muscles, joints and bones. Everything is massaged and worked while walking, but in a more gentle way than high-impact exercise like running.

This helps build your power and strength all the way to the cellular level. It really doesn’t take much, but if you do a little bit every day, your body will thank you. What matters most is that you’re able to fit it into your lifestyle.

Walking helps you lose weight. When I’m thru-hiking, I become a full time pedestrian because my “work day” of 8-10 (sometimes 12!) hours is taken up with walking.

You better believe I burn calories and slim down. But just thirty minutes per day helps all of us tone up – and when we’re lighter, our bodies are happier. Walking makes it easier to manage conditions like diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and stiffness due to arthritis.

walking improves your outlook

Even just a walk around the block – or in the skyway during our long winters – makes you feel better. There’s a positive connection between daily walking and the staving off of mental decline from aging.

Although a recent study suggests that walking in nature is far more productive than walking in an urban setting, any kind of walking reduces rumination, that useless wheel-spinning mind exercise that just makes life less enjoyable and often leads to anxiety and depression.

Walking helps you feel stronger and more resilient. I prefer to walk alone, but some of my most productive conversations have taken place with friends during a walk.

Your balance improves, the distance you walk increases with your growing endurance as does the sense of being “comfortable in your own skin.”

It’s really just a win-win.

6 Responses

  1. An intractable problem, walking will provide a solution; a running injury, walking will help cure it; want see nature at its best, walking will show it; feeling down, walking will lift the spirits.

    Whilst walking in the hills happened on a pub with a huge sign on the wall “We have no wi-fi…TALK to each other”. Talk to the people you meet on the trail. – unexpectedly therapeutic😀

    1. You must be in the lakes! I saw that sign in a pub myself!! Funny that it was an Italian friend on the Te Araroa who pointed out to me that I should stop and talk more to other walkers. You learn a lot – and you share a lot too. 🐥👣🎒

  2. Absolutely agree! Took a dog and move to city from the burbs to help me realize the benefits and pleasure in walking. Was a distance runner back in the day, but kids, weight, knees ended that. Now years later walking with my dog, Monty, twice a day in these beautiful neighborhoods has boosted my happiness (OK not in subzero temps) and decreased weight and blood pressure.

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