Whisper It Quietly, but Walking May be The Best Thing Ever
Posted on 5th February 2023 at 19:39
By Sebastian Grace
I have discovered a passion for walking, a primitive pastime admittedly, but one through which "all truly great thoughts are conceived," as Nietzsche wrote in “Twilight of the Idols.”
Walking rose to socio-cultural prominence recently with TikTok’s formidable “Hot Girl Walk” trend, but I grew fond of it during the darkest days of the pandemic. When confined to home and yearning for fresh air, I would venture out with my dogs to take advantage of the allotted hour of exercise time. In a particularly bizarre diktat from the government, British people were forcibly encouraged to take no more than an hour of exercise a day, and in some cases fined for being outside longer, to “stop the spread.”
I have since rediscovered a fondness for the activity. I enjoy it because of the satisfaction of completing a route and seeing more of the world in a day than you would have otherwise. I don't discount the people-watching, the fresh air and the increased music and podcast consumption, either. Walking used to be boring to me, a means to an end, but now I see it as an end in and of itself.
People often wax lyrical about strolls in the countryside, and, of course, rambling over a field has a particular charm. But don't write off the much-maligned cityscape. Urban landscapes can be beautiful and are worth exploring. I've always enjoyed wandering around cities, and I pound Boston's streets with fervor, despite some of them being as familiar as my apartment. The banks of the Charles River are good, and the alluringly named Emerald Necklace is too.
I habitually try to set aside time for a walk, and even when I can't fit it in, I still enjoy seeing my step count tick as high as possible when busy with the day's activities. It's become a healthy obsession of mine. I've never not felt good after putting one foot in front of the other and benefiting from brain-rejuvenating exercise. For it is exercise, lest we forget.
Walking improves cardiac health; reduces depression, anxiety and fatigue; enhances mood; relieves tension; is excellent at prying our screens from our face; reduces our risk of cancer and chronic disease; improves endurance, circulation and posture; and even more, according to a recent Harvard University study. And yes, there are some boring things to consider, like the need to walk at a reasonable pace to reap the total rewards and wear appropriate footwear to avoid injury. But if it's the weather that’s stopping you, well, grow up.
Pilates, yoga, weights and treadmills may be the most regularly heralded ways to stay healthy, yet study after study has proved what we all feel in our gut: walking is good for us. Shane O'Mara, a professor of experimental brain research at Trinity College, Dublin, has called walking a “superpower.” He insists that it improves our "moods, clarity of thought, our creativity and our connectedness to our social, urban and natural worlds." Research from Stanford University found that walking increased creative output by an average of 60%. Dana Santas, a fitness contributor for CNN, said, “Walking is the most underrated, corrective, mind-body, fat-burning exercise available to humans.”
But please note this personal essay is not an attempt to exclude those who cannot walk. I want to add both the necessary recognition that walking is a privilege and the disclaimer that my encouragement extends not simply to those who are able. Rather, I hope it serves to encourage the pursuit of all other life-affirming activities with the same vigor.
The most powerful of all walking’s health benefits is its ability to soothe the tumultuous ups and downs of the brain. Walking clears my mind of busy thoughts, focusing my attention purely on the ground beneath my feet, each step a moment in which I feel most like myself. As Bill Bryson, travel author and longtime proponent of the activity, writes in his book "A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail," "You have no engagements, commitments, obligations, or duties; no special ambitions and only the smallest, least complicated of wants; you exist in a tranquil tedium, serenely beyond the reach of exasperation."
That is the beautifully simple key to why walking, in both rural and urban surroundings, connects with something profound. The writer and devout walker Iain Sinclair said, moving around on foot entails "opening up your system to the world, making the skin porous, letting all the impressions pour through." Some of our most brilliant minds and stories have celebrated walking. Bertrand Russell said it was integral to his work, Wordsworth composed poetry as he wandered, and Aristotle delivered lectures on foot at his school in Athens. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for you.
Go for a walk. Just don't get in my way.
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