BY JEAN MARIE JOHNSON
Over thirty years ago, in the pre-dawn hours of a typical workday, I decided to go for a walk. Not a big deal, right? Except that it was. I was in the midst of a ginormous life change, and walking sounded like one small change that I could initiate and embrace. As a child, I had walked everywhere. Almost always, when we needed to get to a supermarket, a doctor, a dentist, a pharmacy, or whatever, we’d walk. I even walked myself to the Emergency Room of a hospital when a neighbor’s dog decided to take a bite out of my butt. So embarrassing for a teenager!
Later, as a young commuting professional, my wheels all but replaced my feet. So getting up that April morning meant reclaiming something familiar, something I truly missed. Fast forward to the present and I am looking back on over thirty years of nearly daily walking. I walk alone, walk with my dog, with my husband, with my neighbor, with someone I meet along the way – or any permutation thereof. I’ve even walked with a stray cat who seemed to crave my company, if only for the distance of a block. I love the fluid and organic nature of letting each walk be its own unique experience. Of course, as an early morning walker, I’ve had numerous encounters or near-encounters with nature: the all too familiar bears in the northwest corner of Connecticut, the coyotes further south, and everywhere, the skunks, raccoons, possums and, even once, a bona fide mountain lion stalking its prey. Did I mention that walking can be adventurous?
Yes, walking is good for us. It gets us moving, burns calories, tones muscles, and is a great low-effort workout. We’ve got all that. What gets less notice may be more subtle, but equally compelling. Here are three key reasons why I walk:
Got a problem? Walk it out
Walking is a very effective conduit to problem-solving. Experts suggest that you first get a clear fix on the problem you are trying to resolve. Then, do one of two things: head out on your walk while focused on that problem, OR, let it go. Either way, your superconscious will get into the zone and do the work for you. Most of us have had this experience and marveled at its occurrence, especially when my “problem” is an idea void. When I’m stuck, I start walking. And that’s when the ideas start to flow.
Feeling stressed? Walk it out
Walking improves your mood by pumping up endorphins and has even been referred to as “meditation in motion.” So instead of reaching for that second or third “whatever,” take a few steps and keep going.
If you can walk in a natural environment, all the better. Studies show that being in nature or even viewing photos of nature helps to reduce stress, along with feelings of anger and fear.
Feeling isolated or lonely? Walk it out
Loneliness is not our friend. It messes with our emotional well-being and can have long-term detrimental effects on our physical health. The pandemic has increased our feelings of loneliness as we’ve self-isolated and hunkered down. Walking helps. For one thing, you are likely to see other people, old familiars as well as new faces. Whether you walk down the street, around the neighborhood, or at a local park, you will have the opportunity to connect. Have a dog? That fur baby can be your instant ice breaker.
Call me a walking evangelist and I say, “Guilty as charged!” Walking isn’t a magic wand any more than the next thing, but that first step may prove to be the impetus for many, many more.