Henry David Thoreau has a lovely essay called “Walking”. Near the beginning of this piece he writes, “I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks–who had a genius, so to speak–for sauntering…”*
Almost a year ago (last May), I began walking regularly–almost every day, in fact. My walking schedule isn’t perfect. I sometimes skip walking days, and a couple of times in the last year, I skipped walking for a couple of weeks because of being sick or taking some time to rest and contemplate. And sometimes I walk a really short distance–like under a mile. Sometimes I walk long distances–like fourteen miles.
But, I have fallen in love with walking, and it has brought a lot of positive changes, some of them surprising, into my life.
Here are ten of the benefits it has brought me:
One: I have better endurance: This one is probably not surprising, but it is important. My walking has built up my endurance, and this shows in a lot of cool ways. I can walk or run up stairs more quickly and without getting really winded. It is also much easier to walk a long distance if I need to while out with family and friends. It helps me have more stamina for inside and outside chores. For example, the other day I spent time outside splitting firewood with my family.
This is my husband and I on a trip last year that involved lots of hiking and playing around outside.
Two: I have more confidence: I have always been pretty good at doing hard intellectual tasks, but I have not been as good at doing hard physical tasks. I always thought that I just wasn’t good at doing those things. Walking, especially walking long distances, has taught me that I can do hard things–physical or otherwise. It is just a matter of finding a view of the task that motivates me and then practicing gently and regularly.
Three: I am tougher than I realized: I have not thought of myself as being a very tough person in the past. For instance, extreme temperatures formerly bothered me a lot. When I fell in love with walking, it was spring and pretty comfortable outside. As it got warmer, I realized I could still walk long distances in the heat, as long as I took it slow and drank lots of water.
When fall came, I was pretty skeptical of walking in the rain. But I wanted to keep walking. So, I bundled up, and took it slow. Sometimes I only walked a little bit, but once I walked four miles in heavy rain, and it was beautiful.
And snow walking is lovely, too. I just have to remember to wear appropriate footwear.
Four: I am more at home in the world: One of the coolest benefits of walking is that I am more in touch with nature. I notice the seasons changing. I notice it getting darker and lighter as the days grow shorter and longer. I have started noticing more flowers and birds and insects. The world is not as strange to me, and I feel more at home in it.
Five: I have become more familiar with my neighborhood: I have lived in my house for over a decade, and I am sad to say that until last year, I never walked down to a little duck pond that is only about a mile from my house. I discovered it on my neighborhood walks, and it is lovely and peaceful. I visit there regularly now.
Six: I see really cool things: Walking is an adventure because I almost always see weird, cool, or exciting things on my walk. One time, I saw a woman walking her pet ferret Tyler.
Another time, I saw an otter playing in a creek.
Recently, I saw a woman walking her dog, and her pet parrot Henry was riding on her shoulder. I got to meet Henry, and he said “Hello” to me.
Seven: I learned about fabulous new places near my home: One of the coolest things in the last year of walking is that I discovered a beautiful place called Veteran’s Park near my house. It is a hiking trail in the woods that is beside a flowing river. I feel incredibly wealthy when I walk there–like I have my own private nature sanctuary. It has become one of my favorite places in the world.
Eight: I started running because it’s fun: In the past I generally have disliked (even hated) running. One day this fall, I was on a walk and thought, “I bet running would feel good.” And so I started running, and I ran a mile, and it felt really, really good. I don’t always run on my walk, but I often do, and now I love it. The difference is that when I run now, I do it to play. I go as slow as I want, and I run as long or as short as I want.
Nine: I love movement and exercise because it feels good: I think contemporary U.S. culture has a really weird relationship with movement and exercise. Exercise is almost universally portrayed as something we should do to maintain or lose weight. Because exercise is portrayed this way a lot of people tend to dislike, even hate, and avoid it.
This is so unfortunate because exercise–or movement as I prefer to call it–feels so good. It’s delicious. It’s gentle. It’s invigorating. It’s delightful. It’s adventurous. Movement is awesome because it helps you feel more alive and powerful and joyful.
Ten: I am better friends with my body: One of the interesting things about walking long distances is that I become aware very quickly if the food I eat fuels my body appropriately or if I am drinking enough water or if I am stiff or weak in any part of my body. Walking has awakened my awareness of my body, and I am much better friends with it. I know how to feed it better (and I want to in order to help it walk well), and I know how to take care of it better in all sorts of ways.
Bonus: Love is a better motivator than fear: I am a recovering perfectionist. One of the most painful things about being a perfectionist is that when I get into perfectionist mode, I try to motivate myself through harsh criticism and fear. Walking consistently this year taught me that love is a much better motivator than all of these things.
Today, I am going to go for a slow, gentle walk in the woods. I am excited about all the things I will hear and see. I think I now understand that art of walking and have developed a genius for sauntering. Thoreau would be proud. Walking loves you, and you can develop a genius for walking, too.
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Do you enjoy walking? How has it helped you?
*You can read Thoreau’s essay in full here.