“I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least,—and it is commonly more than that,—sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.” – Henry David Thoreau
My baby pulls himself up now, teeters on a knee and one foot, and then plunks down. He’ll take his first steps soon, sway and totter across the living room floor, and join me in one of my favorite activities – walking.
I’ve loved to walk for as long as I can remember. My parents walked me and my sister to and from school each day until we were old enough to walk alone. We hiked in the Rocky Mountains most summer weekends. We strolled around our neighborhood after dinner. We did errands on foot, stopping at the bank, the hardware store, and the grocery store. My dad even wrote notes to get us out of school on crisp fall afternoons so we could amble along as a family, talk, and gaze at the streaks of red and orange aspen trees on the hillsides. Perhaps this is why walking feels like eating and breathing to me, like I’m not really living unless I’m doing it often.
Walking has factored into many of my big life decisions, like where I’ve lived and worked. I’ve been able to get to work or school on foot most days for my entire life. My commute has ranged from a few blocks to a few miles. I walked four miles a day throughout my pregnancy, right up until the day before my son’s birth. I even walked a couple of miles when I was in labor. I’ve walked up mountains, across beaches, through cities, and up and down a hallway countless times with a sleepy baby in my arms.
I love to walk without purpose, to set my own pace, to have nowhere to go, no time frame, nobody to meet, no one to talk to, and nothing in particular to think about. I love to walk to sort through something I’m writing; or reflect on a bad day; or listen to a podcast; or just meditate on my surroundings. I love to walk with my husband, a good friend, my mom, or my sister and let our conversations drift from topic to topic. I love to lull my baby to sleep on my back as I weave through neighborhoods, across parks, up hills, and down bike paths.
I hate that the word pedestrian also means dull, uninspired, unexciting, or humdrum. I’m convinced the world would be a better place if everyone who was able walked, strode, clomped, jaunted, sauntered, tramped, meandered, shuffled, plodded, and wandered a lot more. We used to. In On Foot: A History of Walking, Joseph A. Amato points out that it’s only very recently that humans have sat and ridden “first on horses and in carriages, then on trains and bicycles, and finally in cars, trucks, buses, and airplanes.” He argues this revolution in the way we live has changed not only our bodies but our minds. It’s altered, “conceptions of space, distance, motion, movement, and the amount of energy necessary to invest in travel.” Amato’s book, as well as Rebecca Solnit’s magnificent Wanderlust: A History of Walking, and Henry David Thoreau’s essay “Walking,” exemplify that walking is anything but pedestrian. It inspires passion, magic, creativity – art.
In honor of one of my favorite activities: here are six reasons to lace on some comfortable shoes and hit the pavement, path, or trail today (and every other day too!):
1. Your health
Moderate daily exercise is essential for good health, and walking is a great exercise. The Honolulu Heart Study followed retired non-smoking men over the age of sixty for twelve years and found that men who walked just two miles a day cut their risk of premature death nearly in half. Of course most people know exercise is great for the heart. It may surprise you that the walkers were also two-and-a-half times less likely to die of cancer than their sedentary peers. (New England Journal of Medicine, Jan 9, 1998)
2. The Environment
I’ve written about how much I love bikes . And walking is even easier on the earth than cycling. No one has to mine molybdenum, titanium, aluminum, or smelt steel for you to hit the pavement. All you need is a comfortable pair of shoes (which you probably own anyway). The more trips we make on foot, the cleaner our air, water, and planet will be.
To make walking an even greener option, check out this Runner’s World article on the environmental “footprint” of running shoes, and consider supporting companies striving to make greener shoes. You can also drop off your used running shoes at a recycling center. Find one near you here.
3. Fresh Air
Richard Louv coined the term “nature deficit disorder” in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods referring to the trend of children spending less time outdoors. Louv believes a lack of outdoors time leads to all sorts of behavioral problems in kids. Spending time in nature is undoubtedly good for children and adults alike. A daily walk allows you to note the gradual shifts in the seasons, watch the sun rise or set, keep track of the moon’s cycles, breathe in fresh air, explore the vast variety of plants and animals, and just be part of the natural world.
4. Problem solving
As Solnit writes in Wanderlust: A History of Walking, “the rhythm of walking generates a kind of rhythm of thinking.” It’s probably not a coincidence that so many of our great thinkers and writers were also great fans of walking – Thoreau, William Shakespeare, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, William Wordsworth, John Adams, Soren Keirkegaard, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jane Austen, and more.
5. Family and Neighborhood Connections
A daily after-dinner stroll is not only good for digestion. It’s also a great time to catch up with your spouse or kids and get to know your neighbors. Check out your neighborhood’s “walk score” here.
6. It’s easy
My favorite thing about walking is how easy it is to incorporate into daily life. Just lace on some shoes, set a comfortable pace, and enjoy the scenery. That’s all it takes.
What’s your favorite thing about walking? I’d love to hear your thoughts!