Monday, November 07, 2016

Why Walking is Good

I try to walk a lot. My step count has gone down since I started working from home, but I still get out and wander the neighborhood at least once a day, and use my feet as a means of transportation whenever I need to be somewhere else. Through years of walking, I have come to realize something:

Walking is good.

Not only for the health benefits, which certainly do exist, on days I don't use hitting my step goal as an excuse for an extra slice of cheesecake. But while walking is good for the body, I think it's better for the brain, the spirit, and even the community.

Walking is good for the brain because it doesn't use it. Driving and other forms of getting around generally require (or should require) near-100% concentration. Walking doesn't. The brain is free to take in the sights around it and learn something, even if it's just where the coolest outdoor cats hang out, or how many shades of orange trees go through in autumn. It is also free to take in more traditional intellectual pursuits, like podcasts, audiobooks, or online courses. Transportation time becomes brain time.

Walking is good for the spirit, whatever the hell that means, because walking time can be used for things other than pure intellect. There is a lot of evidence that occasionally shutting off the brain is good for mental health, and when you combine that with physical activity, it can reduce the stress that crushes so many spirits. It's also a time to let the mind wander, which is a critical phase in any pursuit that requires creativity—because nobody comes up with good ideas by sitting down and staring at a blank screen labeled goodideas.docx.

Walking is good for the community, because it gives an accurate sense of place. A long walk can meander through various neighborhoods, each with subtle differences in the people, the buildings, the feel. Those differences are missed when they fly past in a car. More importantly, there is a sense for how far apart those neighborhoods are, how they border on each other, how one leads to another. Slowly taking in the story of a city is a better way of getting to know it than always rushing through it to a specific place, which is akin to reading the beginning and ending of a book then claiming to understand what it was saying.

And maybe that's good for the community, because when the community isn't really understood, it's hard to make good decisions about it.

Not everyone can walk, or walk everywhere, or walk far, but when possible, walking is good. Not bad. Good.

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