If one of your New Years resolutions was to get back in shape, but you don’t think gym life is for you, I’d like to make an argument for a very simple exercise you already know how to do. Walking.
Two Reasons I Walk
Walking is good exercise.
It’s not great exercise, but it’s pretty darn good. At a three mile per hour pace it burns about 100 calories per mile (of course this is different depending on your weight, height and speed), and it also gets you places while you do it. If you walk five extra miles you just walked off a pretty decent chunk of calories.
Studies have shown again and again that walking, aka low-grade cardio, is the only proven method of staving off cognitive decline. That means people who walk more stay younger longer and don’t suffer from chronic diseases (Alzheimer’s, Congestive Heart Failure, Diabetes, etc) as much. Simply walking an extra hour a day has been shown to add years to your life. And you have to get places anyway, right?
Park the car a little further away. Get off the train a stop or two sooner than normal. Don’t turn on the TV when you get home, go for a walk.
Walking calms the mind.
The stressors of life often wreak havoc on our bodies which aren’t built to cope with the emotional stressors we face on a daily basis: mortgages, taxes, the ozone layer, work, spouses. We’re equipped to fight a problem or run away from a problem. When we’re forced to sit and anguish over a problem, our cells get bathed in corrosive chemicals that can eventually lead to some very serious health problems. Walking helps with this.
Meditation helps, too. But if sitting in a dark room alone with your thoughts is something you don’t think you can do, try a walking mediation instead. There are several online instructions, books and apps that can guide you through this, but here’s the simple way I do it. I put in my headphones but I don’t turn on the music. I just want people to leave me alone, and they’re more likely to do that if they think I’m jamming out. Location helps but is not crucial. I’m lucky enough to work in downtown Chicago (one of the most stressed out cities in the country, btw), so after work I can sometimes walk home along the lakefront. The more nature the better, but I used to walk home right through the center of downtown, and it still left me feeling pretty at ease, despite the traffic, bikers, and the other, slower people. Being close to nature has some sort of calming effect on the mind, and you won’t even realize it until you get home and your thoughts sound like whispers.
And then just walk. Walk at the fastest pace you can walk without feeling like you’re forcing yourself along. I’m 6’4”, and most of that is leg, so I walk at a pretty good clip. Try to clear your mind of debris as you walk. Most mindfulness practices will tell you to acknowledge thoughts as they arise, and then let them go. Acknowledge, move on. I realize this is not always as easy as it sounds. Life’s problems have a way of reaching their grubby little fingers into the crevices in our brains and snuffing out all our peaceful intentions. Acknowledge this, too. Just try not to dwell on stuff.
Breathe deep into your abdomen, let the sunshine cover your face, clear your mind, and enjoy the view as the world moves slowly past you one step at a time.