Walking is to exercise what the insurance is to business: pretty damn boring, but it’s actually pretty beneficial. I’ve been at it 30 minutes every day since 1/1/2018 (minus a couple days, which I more than made up for). It turns out that walking doesn’t have to be, um, lame. Because there’s usually one or more of the following: something new to see, errands to run, people to chat up, music to listen to, or thoughts to think. You don’t need a gym membership, a swimming pool, a tennis/basketball court or soccer/baseball/football field, or a bicycle. Except for some good shoes, which can cost a bundle, there’s little money involved. For those of us fortunate to still be mostly able-bodied, it’s the easiest, most accessible, and reliable health habit we can do. So why don’t more people do it?
I don’t know about everyone else — comedy legend George Carlin would say they’re idiots, and Albert Camus the existentialist would say “Hell is other people” — if they aren’t dead. I imagine if you’re busy all exercise falls to the wayside and you want more benefits than what walking provides. However, the positive effects of ambulating on one’s health are well-known. It’s good for your heart, maintaining muscles, balance, stress reduction, diabetes prevention, and it can be social if you go with someone or talk with neighbors. Most key is maintaining bone density and preventing osteoporosis. If you struggle with weight loss, walking may be a good way to help.
A doctor once told me I should do both biking and walking, so I finally took his advice. I had been bicycling a lot for in 2016-17 (10,000 miles, if you’re curious), so I figured I needed to switch up my exercise. There’s always some excuse: bad weather, tiredness, laziness, other things to do. But I made it a priority and it became a habit, and now if I were to miss a day it would feel very wrong. And it’s a sport that is pretty low impact. For folks like me who are fat athletes (fathlete), or wanting to become a walker, being heavy isn’t usually a disqualifier for walking by itself. Of course, the faster you walk the more calories you burn. Always check with your doctor before starting new exercise.
Read my last post, Some Suprising Ways Weight Supports Sports.
Seeing new things of course depends upon where you live and how much you are mindful and pay attention. If you’re glued to your cell phone you’ll miss alit. Not 30 seconds into my walk the other day, I saw Iatchi, a neighborhood cat who sometimes deigns to let me pet him (or her, or them — I’m not sure of their pronouns). The cat was lounging on a driveway, and as I approached, I got in a few pets and then noticed something. Iatchi lunged for and tossed a grey object in the air while rolling about and playing. It was a dead field mouse! After a bit, the frisky feline stopped and look at me as if to say, “What, you don’t want to play with my dead mouse?”. This went on for a while as I tried to get a good picture. At one point, the rodent went flying towards me and landed on my shoe! I knew it was dead, but I still squeaked and jumped and may have actually yelled “Eek!” Fortunately there were no witnesses, so don’t tell anyone. I soon grew bored, so I left Iatchi to his/her/their own devices. What a weirdo! Keep Austin Weird, I guess. It was a much better live than on a cat video on the internet.
In the park, college-aged people were playing tennis, and some had this game where you hit a ball onto a small trampoline. Couples laid on blankets in the warm Austin, Texas sun (a balmy 86 degrees today after rare and deadly winter storm Uri hit just a month ago), and kids crawled on playscapes under the watchful eyes of their parents. More than a few people walked their dogs, sat reading, listened to music, or napped. It was a regular Norman Rockwell painting. I kept moving.
Usually my route takes me up one street in the neighborhood over one and back down another. I vary it to prevent boredom, but I’m often seeing the same houses, streets and such. But if I bother to pay attention, I notice the changes, small things. In the last few days, trees have begun to bloom. Someone has pulled up their dead plants, mowed their lawn, or planted their garden. The school construction project is done while the poorly sealed hole from a broken water line is still there (even though I called the city information line weeks ago). If I took the same route daily and recorded a time-lapse video, there would be a fascinating film of all the comings and goings of people, animals, birds, and the seasons.
It’s not just thoughts that change and are changing me while walking: it’s everything from the wind in my hair to the atoms in my cells. So would sitting at home watching TV, which I do plenty of, but it’s not the same. It’s disconcerting that I got away from this habit, and I don’t know how or when it happened. Maybe I never really had it, living in the car-centric culture of America. I feel sad for people who can’t or who won’t walk. Thanks to my continual encouragement and harassment, my friend Saurabh is up to 135 days in a row of walking, after many years of not walking, biking irregularly, and occasionally basketball (usually leading to injury). Now, he loves it and is often out there for an hour or more. I think he even managed a 10K once. Walking is just a deceptively simple thing that’s simply good for us.
While things change, there are also constants. The concrete isn’t going away tomorrow. Some of the houses are 100 years old. A number of neighbors have been here for decades. The thing that changes most on my walks is something I can’t really see, at least not completely: myself. Countless thoughts pass through my brain; some I chase down rabbit holes; others I try to ignore. “Did I turn the stove off? Yes.” Or, “What’s for lunch?” Often, “Do I have to do any errands, chores, phone calls, emails, etc.?” Rarely, “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” Daily, “I wish they all could be California girls.” Ad infinitum ad nauseam.
I continue walking despite not seeing any weight loss, or feeling strong enough to run, especially with a niggling injury that makes me walk slowly. It’s an overuse problem from bicycling, age, overweight, the usual. So I stretch, foam roll, use ice and lotions (irregularly), take an anti-inflammatory herb, got new shoes, and try to eat better. I may try some physical therapy and Epsom salt soaks. A sports doctor said I didn’t need to stop, which was a relief because I would just gain weight, lose conditioning and be in a bad mood. It’s taking a while to heal, but I’m getting there. Slow walking is actually relaxing.
It’s a luxury to not have be walking all over a farm or other work site. So it’s the least I can do. Walking about 550-600 miles a year, on top of all the daily steps I take, is a real gift I give myself. At a deeper level, it’s another form of Buddhist meditation. I don’t do actual walking meditation, which is usually slower and in a circle. But I try to be in the moment, breath deeply and mindfully, and attempt to find some peace and quiet amidst the noise and haste. Some days I succeed more than others. Some day I may not be able to go without a cane or walker, or at all, in which case you’ll find me out there on my daily wheelchair ride. Someday before then I hope to be able to do some hiking; I’ll call myself A Dude Ahikes. Until then, I’m a walking dude.
Tell me about your walks. What do you see? What do you like about it? If you don’t walk but can, why?
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