I read something interesting this morning, from Michael Moore. It was about the benefits of just going for a walk. To be honest, I didn’t even read the whole thing, because something resonated with me about what he said and I didn’t feel the need to read the entire post.
It’s an amazing thing. We live such sedentary lives and we’re so pressured to get things done, to cram a lot into our hectic lives and to meet the required standards of physical appearance, weight, health and fitness. It’s crazy-making. The thing that makes you resist doing something good for yourself is that it comes with all this baggage. If you go for a walk, we’re encouraged to believe it has to be for a reason. It’s either to accelerate weight loss, or to tone up or for some other entirely utilitarian purpose. With so much pressure in your life already, why would you want just one more pressing obligation, deadline and requirement to perform as directed? It makes you feel inadequate and doing what you’re supposed to do just reminds you that you were supposed to do it. It brings into sharp focus how far away from the ideal you currently are. It’s an admission of not coming up to par.
The thing that Michael Moore said that struck a chord with me is that you can just go for a walk for no reason. Just walk. Smell the flowers. Take in the sights. See what transpires. Taking a walk doesn’t have to be for any reason other than the sheer existential pleasure of ambling about. There’s enjoyment and pleasure in simply moving, breathing and relaxing.
I’ve come to understand that one of the reasons I didn’t like going for a walk was because it was, at least in my mind, for the purpose of going and thinking about things deliberately, so that I could make plans for projects and actions that I could come back and throw myself into. Sod that! I already feel exhausted. Why would I want to come back with a head full of ideas to expend more mental and physical energy than I have? That feels, to me, like just one more pressure. Why go for a walk, only to come back with another impossibly long addendum to an all ready out of control “To Do” list? Why embark on a walk at all if you are not supposed to come back until you have the answer and the solution to the problem du jour? Too daunting. It’s like being told to go and stand in the corner and think about what you just did. The feeling is almost that it’s a form of mental punishment, in fact.
So, for me, the idea of taking a walk for no reason is an epiphany. I simply hadn’t thought of it that way before.
Now the odd thing about doing anything life-affirming like taking a walk is that there are benefits anyway, only you don’t have to care about what they are. You will improve your health, in all likelihood. You are likely to stave off insulin resistance and increase your aerobic capacity and stamina. You might lose weight. None of that, though, is the reason or point of taking a walk. You shouldn’t even be aware of those side effects. They’re side effects. The main attraction is that you are going for a walk. If anybody asks you why, the answer ought to be, “for no particular reason”.
For those with a creative bent (us artists), there are even more benefits to just taking a walk. Exposure to beauty is conducive to creation. You will probably gain inspiration, or momentary stillness of mind that lets your best ideas come to the fore, unconsciously, because they aren’t crowded out, for once, by all the noise that usually occupies our minds associated with keeping it all together, staying on schedule, paying our way and making sure our obligations are met. When you carve out some time to simply walk, your mind is given the serenity and space to do what it does best, which is to come up with new and refreshing approaches, brilliant new ideas, concepts and to find ways of doing things you might have been stuck on.
You learn your local area, when you walk. You find all the nooks and crannies and hidden gems that are right under your nose, as you routinely and insouciantly breeze past them every day in your car, never noticing them. You might even meet people or find that your neighbourhood is really interesting.
Going for a walk is an opportunity to be kind to yourself and do something nice for yourself, for a change. It stops you reading the ads and feeling like you are less than acceptable, unless you buy whatever product is being sold to you in order to fool you into believing that you temporarily belong. When you go for a walk, you can stop admonishing yourself for your failure to be ideal and start accepting that there is something rather nice about just moving, being and being able to move. You can take the time out for a walk without carrying the feeling that you should have been doing something else more productive and creative instead. After a good long walk, you might even sleep more soundly, both from being a little more physically tired and because you have taken the time to still your mind.
I feel motivated to go for walks, armed with this perspective. I can walk because it’s a beautiful day and let things take care of themselves for a while. I don’t need to be thinking about how to cause the outcomes I want all the time. I can just let it all go and simply walk. It will all be there when I get back, anyway. Walk because it’s good to be alive.