Take a Hike: Walking to Save your Humanity, your Heart, and your Head

When I was a student at the University of Florida, I used to walk—a lot.

Not barefoot for miles in 20 feet of snow, like my uncle Fern, but I put in three miles a day, at least. 

I'm talking about HOURS of walking. I walked so much, I used to dream about writing a book about walking... Today, I'm settling for a blog post :)

Now, when I say I used to walk, that's an understatement. Really, I used to strut. I would strut HARD. Like these guys in the video below, set to the second best song ever about walking:

Nowadays, as a culture, we spend a lot of our time NOT walking. Most of the time, we're moving around in our cars.

This isn't our fault. City planners since the end of World War II have made it less pleasant for us to walk our streets,

Walking has become a chore for most of us. It doesn't get the love it deserves. It doesn't fit in with our fast-paced society

"Wanna walk home?" —"Nah, let's call an Uber..."

"Wanna walk to the movies?"—"Nah, let's drive."

"Wanna walk around the block?"—"Nah, let's sit here and veg out instead."

A walk may not even seem possible. Maybe you've never even thought of it as an option!

But, walking is one of the greatest pleasures of life. If all you ever do is drive everywhere, you'll miss the smell of jasmine in the spring. You'll blast past the bees collecting nectar and pollen. You'll overlook the way that pine needles shimmer in the wind, like a boa on a 1930's flapper—those Florida pines sure know how to strut their stuff!

But, how will you ever know if you don't slow down?

Ah, "slow down." Really, one of the greatest things we could ever do. 

Slow down... The antithesis of all we've ever wanted in 2018, since... for ever. When faster and bigger is the order of the day, "slow down," sounds like something your wise old granny would say while she reminisces over the good ol' days. 

But us? We live in a fast-paced world. It's to the point where I feel like I'm being forced to move fast. And yet, slowing down in every way is probably the best thing any of us could ever do: slow down eating; slow down tasking; slow down talking and slow down by walking.

But, why? Why is it good to walk?

Because, walking creates connections; connections to neighbors, nature and neighborhood.

Simply put, you'll notice things. Noticing is appreciation; appreciation is gratitude. Gratitude is a centenarian's super power. You can cultivate this power yourself with just a few minutes a day of walking.

Walking is good for your health. Like, really good. Duh, you know this. It's good for your back, it's good for your brain, it's good for your digestion. It can be relaxing. It can decrease your chances of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other chronic diseases. It's good on so many levels!

You should walk, because some people can't walk. If you're reading this, and you can't walk, I hope you can keep moving, somehow. And, if you're reading this, and you can walk. Well then, you should take advantage of that fact! It's amazing how something as seemingly inconsequential as the ability to walk is really an awesome gift!

Need I say more? I could go on, but instead, here are some tips...


How to walk more:

Live in a walkable area/city, when possible. Not everyone has the luxury to get up and move, but if you have control over your geographic location, try to find a walkable part of town. Before World War II, most cities were built to human scale. Cars were a luxury, so most people walked. As a result, older parts of a city, or older cities in general, are very walkable. If possible, find yourself a pad in an older part of town. Usually, downtowns and surrounding areas are a good start.

If you don't live anywhere walkable, bike/drive/go somewhere walkable. Go on a hike; drive to the prairie, to the beach, to the hills, to the mountains, to the park. Anywhere! Just get out there and look for cool places to explore and walk. Walk in green spaces, surrounded by nature. Walk through heritage sites and appreciate the architecture. Walk and look for the good in your surroundings.  

Park really far away. My father used to do this to keep his car from getting scratched up. I would wine every time... Now, here I am writing about walking and telling you to do what I *used to* hate :) Parking far away is an awesome strategy to add a few more steps to your day, and keep the paint on your car scratch-free.

Choose walking over everything else when possible, even if the walk is not super pleasant, or seems long. One mile takes 15- 20 minutes. If it takes you 5-10 minutes to drive somewhere, it's usually a walkable distance. Give it a go and see what you find.

Take a walk with friends, family and loved ones, for no good reason other than to walk. Walk for the sake of walking. Walking with loved ones encourages communication and listening. Some of the best conversations I've had with my wife happened on a walk. If the weather is nice, Mariana and I will walk downtown (about a mile walk) for dinner. When we're stuffed from our decadent outing, the walk back is usually pleasant and welcomed.

Walk short distances, multiple times per day. This last one comes from a recommendation by Dr. Stewart McGill, an expert on spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo, who recommends walking for folks with back pain, even if the pain happens when they walk! For those folks, one should walk until the pain surfaces, even if it's just for 30 seconds, then rest until the pain subsides, then continue. For those of us who are healthy (or not), he also recommends walking 3 times per day for 20 minutes (or as long as you can without pain). It turns out that small spurts, rather than a long trek, is the best way to promote spinal health through increased walking capacity.

Finally, while you're hoofing, don't forget to say hello to your neighbors! I get it. You're awkward. It's like we wear our awkwardness as a badge of honor, or something. Growing up in an automobile culture, we pass just feet from each other in our cars and don't even say hello.*** We're trained to be in close proximity to one another with no connection; ignoring one another's existences. Walking is different (unless you're in Disney World or Manhattan). Don't be awkward; be pleasant... Say "hello." It's literally one of the nicest things you can do.

So, go take a hike today. Walk for the sake of walking. Hold your loved one's hand and talk on your walk. Notice the beauty around you, whether you're in the mountains, or in the concrete jungle, beauty is everywhere. Train yourself to look for it on your walks. You may find that this simple practice will impact your life positively, and your presence will increase the richness of life for those around you :)


***Total tangent but important footnote: Cubans do a lot of walking. Having a car in Cuba is a major luxury. Imagine my surprise as a 16 year old, when on our ride from Havana to Pinar Del Rio, OUR DRIVER SAID HELLO TO EVERY DRIVER HE PAST ON THE HIGHWAY. Weird? Not at all! This man recognized that he was passing human beings on the road, and it was his natural inclination to give them a little beep from the horn and hail them up :) Say hello to a total stranger today and make a connection. It doesn't cost a thing.

**Also, literally, the best song ever written about walking. You're welcome:

References:

Lee (July 2008). The Importance of Walking to Public Health. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: July 2008 - Volume 40 - Issue 7 - p S512-S518. DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31817c65d0. [Abstract Here]

J. Barton, R. Hine, J. Pretty (2009). The health benefits of walking in greenspaces of high natural and heritage value. Journal
Journal of Integrative Environmental Sciences. 
Volume 6, 2009 - Issue 4, Pages 261-278. Published online: 30 Nov 2009, https://doi.org/10.1080/19438150903378425, [Full article here]

Sugiyama, Leslie, Giles-Corti, Owen (2008). Associations of neighbourhood greenness with physical and mental health: do walking, social coherence and local social interaction explain the relationships?Journal of Epidemiology and Community. Volume 62, Issue 5. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/jech.2007.064287 [Abstract Here]

Morris, Hardman (1997). Walking to Health. Sports Medicine. May 1997, Volume 23, Issue 5, pp 306–332 [Abstract Here]

Dr. Stephen R. Overmann, "Urban Sprawl," Southeast Missouri State University. Retrieved on April 3, 2018: http://wps.prenhall.com/wps/media/objects/1027/1052055/Regional_Updates/updateXX.htm

Stuart McGill, PhD, "Core Training: Evidence Translating to Better Performance and Injury Prevention," Spine Biomechanics, Department of Kinesiology, Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, University of Waterloo,
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Retrieved April 3, 2018: [Full Article]