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Born to Walk (not drive)

“The best remedy for a short temper is a long walk.”

After preparations for the beach bonfire and evening meal were complete, I observed Lua quietly detach from the group and go for a long walk by herself. She took her ukulele with her. When she returned, I asked her if something was wrong. She looked at me with a puzzled expression, smiled, and said,

 

“Oh no, Mister Rico … well, not anymore.”

 

“What do you mean ‘not anymore’?”

 

“I always find it a little stressful to meet many new people all at once. I am somewhat of an introvert, in case you hadn’t noticed. But walking helps me reduce stress and feel better whenever I feel a bit overwhelmed. I love walking.”

 

She went on to explain that, at home, she takes long walks every day. She said that we are born to walk and our bodies actually need to move to remain healthy. It is the best, most available, and most natural form of exercise, after all.

 

Walking is such a simple, accessible way to reduce stress, get fresh air, recharge the mind, improve health, and reconnect with neighbors and with the natural world — all the things that enhance overall well-being. Walking is magical that way, Lua said.

 

I had read that Plato and Aristotle did much of their best thinking together while walking. The movement, the meditation, the flow of the blood pumping, and the rhythm of footsteps — it is often touted as an elegant, simple, natural way to connect with one’s deeper self.

 

I followed,

 

“Well, sure. Exercise — especially slow, repetitive exercise — is really great; it is therapeutic. Whenever I’m feeling tense or stressed or like I’m about to have a meltdown, I’ll get on my bike and go for a long ride. It works wonders. In fact, I get some of my best song ideas while riding. It is said that Einstein claimed to have come up with the essence of his theory of relativity while riding a bicycle!

 

Lua replied,

 

“That does not surprise me. Exercise has a calming effect on the mind. And a calm mind helps small, random thoughts mix and mingle and merge into big beautiful ideas.”

 

I had also read that many medical professionals promote regular exercise like walking as the most effective way to reduce the risks of many chronic diseases. Walking for thirty minutes a day not only prevents, but may actually reverse many medical conditions and diseases such as type-2 diabetes, pre-diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, knee pain, Alzheimer’s in its early stages, chronic constipation, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), edema caused by being sedentary, and fatty liver disease. It can slow down the progression of Parkinson’s disease. It can help prevent strokes, vascular dementia, osteoporosis, varicose veins, breast cancer, colon cancer, and cognitive impairment. It can reduce stress and all the health problems that stress induces. It can even boost the immune system. Indeed, if walking were a drug, it could arguably be sold for $1000 a pill!

 

Walking also helps the lymphatic system do its job. Unlike the circulatory system, the human lymphatic system has no pump and so requires muscular movement to push lymph around. Lymph does double duty in the body by distributing nutrients and removing cellular waste. Walking even helps with sleep at night. It enhances balance, making falls less likely in old age. A short walk fifteen minutes after a meal evens out blood sugar and improves digestion.

 

Apart from inducing chronic disease, a sedentary lifestyle substantially increases the odds of depression. Walking, on the other hand, is proven to prevent depression. If already depressed, walking can be as effective as anti-depressants in the short term and more effective in the long term. And, of course, it works its magic without any of the nasty side effects of pharmaceuticals. People who walk (or bike) to work consistently have higher well-being scores than those who drive. The more time spent in a car, the more miserable, fat, and unhealthy we tend to get. Moderate exercise such as walking reduces both anxiety and stress better than medications.

 

Walking boosts energy and reduces fatigue. It reduces chronic back and joint pain. It increases creative thinking and cognitive function. It improves memory and attention span — especially valuable for the elderly and school-age children. Moderate exercise such as walking is the number one way seniors can retain their health, mobility, and cognitive function as they age. (Staying connected to friends, family, and neighbors of all ages is number two.)

For Lua, walking on the beach, in a park, or along a quiet secluded nature trail was a way to reconnect with herself and with the beauty and mystery of the natural world. Walking in Nature is so powerful that even a short five-minute walk can substantially elevate mood, she insisted. Her compelling description brought to mind an old Bobby Darin tune, Beautiful Things, that conveys the uplifting mood Lua may have been referring to:

The world is full of beautiful things
Butterfly wings, fairy tale kings
And each new day undoubtedly brings
Still more beautiful things

 

The world abounds with many delights

Magical sights, fanciful flights

And those who dream on beautiful nights

Dream of beautiful things
 

Beautiful days for sunshine lazin'
Beautiful skies and shores
Beautiful nights when I can gaze in
Beautiful eyes like yours

 

You wonder why the nightingale sings

Lovers have wings, people wear rings
The world is full of beautiful things
Beautiful people, too

 

Our lives tick by like pendulum swings

Delicate things, butterfly wings
The world is full of beautiful things
Beautiful people, too

Beautiful people, like you

It is very sad, I thought to myself, that a powerful and pervasive global car culture, with close to one billion passenger vehicles rumbling over millions of miles of abused roadways, insulates and isolates so many of us from so many of the beautiful things of the natural world. And that is a big problem, because we won't protect what we can no longer relate to — what we no longer love.

 

Ads in support of this deeply rooted car culture send a deceiving message (as most ads do). Happiness and freedom are not found behind the wheel of car, nor good health. This is especially true on the clogged highways of car-engorged America, where eighty-five percent of American adults drive to their workplace, and three-quarters of those who drive, drive alone. For honesty’s sake, car advertisements really should show drivers who are indebted, overweight, and stressed-out; since that is the ultimate outcome of lifestyles so overly dependent on the automobile and so averse to walking and bicycling and to re-engaging with the natural world. And perhaps the dealers' promotional packages should consider including discounts on funeral services, as more people die from road traffic injuries each year around the world than from murder and suicide — combined.

 

Lua counseled,

 

“We all need to walk more, Mister Rico, and reconnect with the natural world. Even if you don’t enjoy regular daily walks, it is good to remember this: the best remedy for a short temper is a long walk.”

 

“Not on a small boat!”

 

I couldn’t resist.

 

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​© 2020 Rich 'Rico' Leon