I talk a lot about running on my blog. But you know something? I love walking. I walk every day. It’s a cheat code for your mental health and well-being. It makes me feel alive in a way sitting on my lazy behind doesn’t. And when my lower back — which is a train wreck of herniated discs and nerve damage — sees, well: feels, me walking, it’s all like, “You get it. You get that walk!”
One of the keys to getting the most out of walking is to talk minimally. If you’re by yourself, that’s easy — unless you’re sort of crazy and you talk to yourself and mumble under your breath while out in public. But even the phone, avoid that dreadful device when you’re walking. Put it on silent and bury it in your pocket. You’re cheating yourself out of better health when you gab away while walking. I see people walking and talking on the phone all the time where I live. You’re doing two things at once and not being mindful. To get a smidge zen about it: when you walk, walk.
I’m not saying talking on the phone while walking is an evil activity — or am I? — but it’s like eating the world’s tastiest dessert and instead of enjoying it by chewing and salivating and swallowing and licking your lips, you’re running your mouth the whole time talking to your buddy at the table who wants you to zip your trap so he can enjoy the world’s tastiest dessert in peace. He wants to taste every morsel while you seem content simply dropping the calories down into your gut.
When you walk mindfully a few things happen: you notice the blue sky or the clouds or what have you. You feel the breeze pass over you. You hear the little bitty birdies chirping away in the trees or the crows cawing and rattling or making sonar-like sounds going bananas branches up (my favorite pastime).
There’s a rooster that stands guard at a house close to where I live. He has open space to walk so he paces back and forth through the yard and into the coop on occasion. It’s a ways off in the woods. I pass nearby on one of the trails I travel daily. Before I saw the mohawked fellow in the flesh, I used to think it was a recording because the thing crowed about so much. I’m talking all day, every day. Not just when the sun comes up. This rooster goes to town the whole day, pacing back and forth. It would be easy to find this annoying and I’m sure some of the neighbors who live within earshot of this rooster do. But I find it hilarious. He’s cockadoodle dooing like it’s his last day on Earth to cockadoodle doo. Carpe diem, I say. Or carpe doodle doo.
What does any of this rooster nonsense have to do with walking? I’m glad you asked. It’s like we have ESP. See the rooster is making the most of his day. He’s not sitting around wasting his precious hours left alive like we humans do. I’m sure he’s got a few hens in the coop to peck — if you know what I mean — but he’s living his life to the fullest. Sure, he’s going against what I said above by walking and talking but he may be of the crazy sort so I’ll give him a pass.
Brief interlude involving a conversation with my wife
Me: Do you know that rooster in the woods near the nature trail we walk?
Allison: That rooster is out of his mind.
Me: I know. I just wrote about how he’s insane.
// end interlude //
What he’s not doing is what’s important here. That rooster isn’t sitting around eating potato chips and ice cream and streaming Netflix. No sir. He’s not scrolling through a never-ending feed on social media. He’s not drinking beer or smoking cigarettes or complaining about the state of the world. He’s doing none of that.
That rooster is walking.
Now I know you’re thinking that he’s not doing any of the things I mentioned because he’s a rooster and not a human. You’re right. But we didn’t always do some of what we do now. Think about how you spend your free time present day as compared to 20 or 30 years ago. We do what we do now because it’s convenient. It’s easy. It’s right there at our fingertips — quite literally. Even 30 years ago, I didn’t sit around watching TV gobbling up four or five hours each day of my spare time. TV was horrible when I was younger for the most part (shout-out to MacGyver for being amazing, however) and because TV was so horrible I went outside and played with my friends.
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And do you know what we did a lot of? We walked. We walked a lot through the woods on the banks of Cub Creek in the booming metropolis that is Phenix, Virginia, population: 200. We lived outside. Inside was for sleeping. We walked the streets so much that one of us // cough // was even accused of being a gang leader when he was 15 years old. True story and how hilariously ridiculous. We ran, too, and tackled each other playing backyard football and shoved and elbowed each other in basketball and clocked one another upside the head with walnuts in a game of War.
But we did a lot of walking. That could be why I love walking as much as I do now that I’m older and my body is halfway falling apart and experiences various pangs depending on the temperature and barometric readings.
To be able to walk is a glorious feeling. It was our first real milestone in life — that seemingly ordinary activity where you put one foot in front of the next. We were immensely proud to do it. We’d fall on our behinds then we’d get up again and do it some more. More walking please.
As my boy and zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh once said:
You have feet, and if you don’t make use of them it’s a loss and a waste. Someone is telling you now so that in the future you cannot say: “No one told me that it was important to enjoy using my feet.”Thich Nhat Hanh, How to Walk
Be good to your feet by walking mindfully out in the open air. If you’re by yourself, pay attention to your steps and to the natural world around you. If you’re walking with someone else, talk minimally and enjoy your walk together. Pamper yourself in the afternoon when you’re done with an Epsom salt bath soak if you’re feeling refined.
Walking is crazy underrated as a physical activity. I don’t need to point anyone to an NIH research study by a person known as a scientist for you to know walking is good for your heart, lungs, and brain. You know it by walking.
Physical health aside, walking is one underrated mental health hack to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Forget the phrase “mental health” for a second. Mental well-being: that’s what we should be calling it now anyway. Walking is such a simple, accessible activity for most of us and we should be doing it more. No more excuses. No more finding a reason not to do it. Just get out there and walk like a child taking their first steps.
Be the rooster.
Just don’t clamor about so much like that little guy. But do take his advice:
Cockadoodledoo! The sun came up again. I can’t believe it. I thought when I closed my eyes last night, that was it. But we have another day like this. Whew hoo!JW Rooster II, Peter Rabbit (film)
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