Monday, 21 April 2014

The WALK of LIFE: 7 Reasons To Do It!

Welcome (back) to Walking With Freddie's 2-part post on the wonders of pedestrian self-propulsion, aka WALKING! Part 1 included some lively responses in the Comments section (just what we like!).

Here in Part 2, we'll cover Freddie's Top 7 Benefits of getting around on our own two feet. (Please see Part 1 and its Comments section for all my caveats/disclaimers/qualifiers on this topic!)

OK? Allons-y! Vámonos! Let's go!

1) Walking recalibrates our wonky sense of distance.

In one of my past lives, a colleague, recently back from summer holidays in the UK, cheerfully announced that his return journey had taken just a little over eight hours (good tail wind or something). I remember being impressed; the same trip had taken me nine+ hours the summer before. That seemed "normal." Nine-ish hours — less than half a day — to travel nearly 8,000 kilometers. I'll repeat that: eight thousand kilometers.


Air and highway travel have messed with our internal odometers. Walking helps to recalibrate. While it probably isn't necessary to pull off a Terry Fox / Sébastien Sasseville - style transcontinental foot race to (re)discover what a kilometer or a mile really feels like, self-propelling over any distance that's normally covered by car or bus is surely a good thing to do. Why? Well, in addition to allowing for benefits #2 through #7, I think/hope it helps us remember just how much energy/resources those snappy, distance-shrinking trips by motorized means require. Not a bad thing to remember!

Oh, and, paradoxically, it seems that walking can also shrink perceived distances — but in a good way. Some study by some researcher somewhere, some time ago, indicated that most people are able to walk much further in a given amount of time than they predict they'll be able to. I experienced this phenomenon the first time I tried walking to work (a trip I normally made by bike in about 35 minutes). I left home 2.5 hours before I needed to be there, packed enough food and diabetes supplies for a full-day hike, and was a little surprised to find myself at my desk an hour later.

I hear blog posts with kitties are more likely to go viral. ;-)

2) Walking heightens our awareness of and connection to the world outside.

Buds, berries, blossoms. The kitty in the window. A single layer of snowflakes on the sidewalk. Raindrops on the rusty railing around the outdoor pool. What time Joe's Grill opens on a Sunday. Where the yard sales are happening and when the lost pet was last seen. Balconies, barnacles, birds in the bush. The rustle of bamboo. Smashed pumpkins and smoking fireworks on November 1st. Whiffs of lilac in June. Dog dishes next to restaurant patios, the bag of refundable bottles hooked over the back lane fence. A toppled garden gnome. The price of glass beads. Dumpster graffiti, newspaper box headlines. A shiny Toonie on a wet sewer grate. The frog chorus in the Spanish Trail marshes. The Phantom Tenor, who strolls through the neighbourhood singing Italian arias.


3) Walking inspires thinking.

Maybe not for everyone. But, for many of us, I think the metronome effect of putting one foot in front of the other helps to stimulate our grey matter in ways that sitting doesn't. When I'm walking with Freddie (ie. no other humans around), and he's trotting companionably at my side (ie. we can both take a break from active training mode), my brain starts free-associating in response to our surroundings. Often the stuff I think about is just pointless crap — but it tends not to be destructive crap (worrying, regretting, stressing out, etc.). That stuff seems to happen much more readily when I'm sitting or lying down.

And sometimes when I'm walking, I think of something worthwhile: a scene for my novel, a teaching idea for the upcoming semester ... or the fact that a certain café reminds me a little of the Latin Quarter, and wouldn't it be fun to do a fantasy blog post from Paris .... or an imaginary island off the North African coast?

Heads Up

4) Walking is an exceptional form of exercise (and blood sugar control). 

Those familiar with "Primal Blueprint" guy Mark Sisson's ideas about exercise will have come across his (and others') notion that lots of slow-paced movement (not necessarily walking) is the foundation of a healthy exercise program and should take precedence over what he calls "chronic cardio." This idea makes sense to me. Sisson has his own list of the benefits of walking, here. His benefit #3 is geared toward those of the diabetic persuasion and is something I've experienced first-hand ...

What do I do about a stubborn high blood sugar that isn't responding well to insulin? I walk. Running and other high-intensity exercises don't work: too many fight/flight hormones that actually raise blood sugar. Nope, walking is the thing. I did it in the middle of writing this post — brought an ugly 14.6 mmol/L down to 7.2 in about 30 minutes. With the help of an insulin shot, of course. Walking doesn't replace insulin; it helps it to do its job.

5) Walking strengthens relationships.

With friends, acquaintances, colleagues, walkable pets ...  Walking counts as a shared activity, something you experience together — ie. good for relationships — but, unlike scuba diving or watching a movie, it doesn't demand much of your attention. That attention can be mostly directed toward the other person/being.

Although I'm not a Catholic, I think there's also something to be said for the confessional-style setup of the typical two-party walk. Some things are just easier to share outside the intensity of the face-to-face gaze.

And, of course, walking can make for a better first date than dinner. Those awkward silences that might descend? Easier to deal with if you can point to a random dog/Greek restaurant/inflatable Santa and ask your companion what he/she thinks of dogs/Greek food/Christmas.

6) Walking helps manage stress.

For intense stress, I'm probably more inclined, for better or worse, to do intense exercise. The more chronic, low-grade stuff, however, responds well to a good brisk walk, I find. My highly scientific proof for this phenomenon is that I generally feel more relaxed after a walk than I do before. (Except when the walk happens to end with a crazy drive-by rant from a complete stranger, claiming that I failed to pick up after my dog. I include the anger management photo above, and the walking advice, in case Angry Driver X happens to see this post!)

Walking With Freddie practices responsible pick-up!

(Now, if only this red wheelbarrow were glazed with rain water and had white chickens beside it!)

7) Walking promotes neighbourhood safety and a sense of community.

Those kids who always get driven to school (especially the ones who live within walking distance)? They'd feel and be safer if more kids, and parents, and other friendly adults, and dogs were also out and about on the sidewalks. At the risk of sounding like Fred Rogers (a very groovy guy, IMO), knowing your neighbours, feeling you're part of a community, is a great thing. And how the heck do neighbours meet each other in a casual, neighbourly way if they're always cooped inside their house/apartment or their car?

Granted, immediate neighbours can get to know each other without travelling far. But if lots of people make a point of cruising their nearby walkways on foot (or, for that matter, on/in mechanical mobility aids), then the circles of acquaintance expand and overlap ... and then we start to get into the urban planning issue of "walkable neighbourhoods" — a wonderful ideal ... but I bet that most less-than-ideal physical settings could be improved by a critical mass of pedestrians (re)claiming their outdoor space!

And, if elected, Freddie and I will ... ;-)

That's it for this post! 

Now, get out there and claim your space!


  1. I couldn't agree more! I think people would all be in better moods and treat each other better if we all walked a little more. :)

    1. Thanks for the link, Heather! I should have done this with THIS post, but I will in the next one: link your blog site on my home page and let readers know there are TWO Heather Burts blogging about walking/hiking!

    2. Ah, how well you put it (as usual). Walking my dogs in the mornings (dark) gives me a quiet and restful air to think. However, I listen to books, one of the Great Courses, or just think about the day, while maintaining the four sniffing in all different directions.
      There is something in knowing your neighborhood, watching it grow, change, and become a part of your history, as well. The dogs are a wonderful way to meet neighbors and to chat, as well (even at 5 am).
      Thank you for this!

    3. Tony, I think what you say about knowing your neighbourhood and becoming a part of its history counts as benefit #8!

      Freddie and I will be doing earlier mornings on my teaching days this summer, but not as early as yours. Once I'm up, it's great; it's the getting up that's a challenge!

    4. You've no idea how difficult it is to roll out between 345 and 410 am! But once up, and I have Rusty shadowing me, I know life is good. Then I open the first bag of treats and Samson joins us, as does Skally (who was running about chasing dogs this afternoon - everyone was impressed!). Simon has to be pulled out of bed like a teenager! Then we're underway. Soon we will be able to view the sunrise growing behind Mt. Hood, from a block away from here - looking above the parts of the city. That's what's worth it!

  2. I agree with you Heather. I am a dreamer, a vivid one. And sometimes when I'm walking, I think of something worthwhile: a scene for my novel, a teaching idea for the upcoming semester (This I no longer do it but used to teach about a few days in a month )... or the fact that a certain café reminds me a little of the Latin Quarter, and wouldn't it be fun to do a fantasy blog post from Paris .... or an imaginary island off the North African coast?



    1. Thanks for your message, Raj ... happy dreams!

  3. Interesting and excellent post, Heather! You succinctly and eloquently explain the many benefits of walking.--Bruce


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