Better Mental & Physical Health Can be as Easy as a Walk in the Park

What is one of the easiest, most natural, cost free and healthiest of pursuits? 

A simple walk. If you don’t have a park, who cares! There are so many other sights to enjoy. 

We know as experts in this sport at which we excel. When we were drafting our last book, Not Dead Yet, we talked about the value of a walk as we age. We mention Karen Duffy who wrote about the importance of walking to mitigate back pain in her book titled, An Inspirational Manual for Coping with Chronic Pain. She has become a flaneur (a walker/wanderer), she says.  

Apparently hoofing it strengthens stomach and back muscles and bones and keeps your heart rate up while you do something aerobic that isn’t stressful on your body as in ruined knees and injured hips.

Walking, which is good for folks of any age, has been known to trim legs and tummies, boost vitamin D and your immune system, and it will make you feel good, which is reason enough to pound the pavement.

Equally important, walking doesn’t require fancy clothing or equipment, no membership fees, sweaty machines or group exercise unless you walk with others. However, you do need a pair of well-fitted, sturdy shoes of some kind—just no fancy label is required. In many cases, walking can be a very social activity when done with others, another benefit. What a great way to “walk” things off your chest and schmooze. 

Walking everywhere is one of the best reasons to live in almost any community, whether urban, suburban or rural. It’s a way of life. Just slather sunscreen on your arms, legs and other exposed body parts, don a hat and shades, and that pair of good, properly fitting tennis shoes to avoid blisters, shin splints and calluses… and march forward. 

Although many people track their miles on their phones or steps on a Fitbit, Margaret finds this makes her neurotic akin to getting on a scale every morning to check one’s weight. For her, being compulsive takes the fun out of the activity. Barbara likes to keep track on her phone of steps walked daily. It’s an integral part of her exercise regimen and became so during Covid-19 when she felt isolated. She and the beau walked twice daily, waving to neighbors, enjoying the architecture of their town and feeling socially distanced safe.

For Barbara, walking was also a tradition she started early. Each night after dinner when she was young and the weather was walking-suitable, she and her late dad took a walk around their block with their family dog. And when her children were old enough to bicycle, they often rode, and she walked around their first Midwestern ‘hood. Her two oldest grandsons and parents are beginning to do the same in their urban neighborhood.

Walking is in right now as the smart, easy and most benign exercise to do. It was touted and featured recently on the Today Show, which has formed a walking club of 140,000 members. One member, a woman who beat alcoholism, turned to a healthier activity--walking. She walks 3 ½ miles every day, often with her husband by her side. A fringe benefit is that she’s shed 70-something pounds. It’s good for her head space, too.

Enthusiastic walker, Jancee Dunn, writes in the New York Times, May 17, 2023, a piece titled, “Sign Up for Well’s 5-Week Walking Series where we’ll share tips and inspiration to help you get moving this June.” She notes too that many of us conduct meetings “while on foot”. The benefits: “better sleep, reducing joint pain and lowering anxiety. A 2023 study of adults 70 and older in the journal Circulation found that walking an additional 500 steps a day was associated with a 14 percent lower risk of heart disease, stroke and heart failure.” What an endorsement!

Kristin Chenoweth concurs. In the New York Times “Headliner” section on April 2, 2023, Chenoweth says when she crashes and burns and is wiped out, she walks on the beach, in a mall or around New York. 

In another piece by NY Times writer, Andrew McCarthy, March 25, 2023, the headline read: “Whatever the Problem, It’s Probably Solved by Walking.” He calls walking “the worst-kept secret I know. Its rewards hide under every step.” With spring, let’s add some spring in our step, he advocates.

Twenty-five years ago, he walked 500 miles across Spain on the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage route. Now he walks every day, considering it one of the most valuable things he does. Margaret’s daughter, Remy, did the Camino several years ago and found it healing and invigorating. She walked 14 to 17 miles daily for two weeks. Now walking and running are part of her daily routine.

McCarthy in his article, notes the impact of walking on several famous folks. “Hippocrates proclaimed that ‘walking is man’s best medicine.’ Kierkegaard confessed, ‘I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. And Charles Dickens was even more direct. If I could not walk far and fast,’ he wrote, ‘I think I should just explode and perish.’” William Wordsworth, Virginia Woolf, William Blake were all flaneurs. McCarthy says it’s when walking that their best thoughts bubble to the surface.

Then there’s the piece by Andrea Sachs, April 6, 2023, in the Washington Post, who wrote about Will “Akuina” Robinson, a veteran with PTSD who hiked 11,000 miles to find peace of mind. Or Jen Balderama, associate editor of the Washington Post, who wrote about Neil King Jr. He decided to walk from his home near Washington DC to New York City simply to pay homage to the land.

For Margaret, it’s the only form of exercise that she continually enjoys. When her husband was alive, the two walked their dog every night after dinner. Getting outside and moving is a treat without calories. Equally important, a solitary walk is time to think. She leaves the phone and ear buds behind. And as she walks, she has rewritten leads for articles, produced clever headlines, branded ideas and topics for articles and even books.  

But we both caution that, especially in a city like New York, walking does have its dangers if you’re too lost in your thoughts to pay attention to your surroundings and traffic since cars and buses sometimes ignore red lights.

Other walkers who might be clueless about who is in their space as they text on cell phones and bump into you or even push you over or runners who can elbow you as they race past, skate boarders, bikers as they whiz by without looking at who’s in front of them, and most dangerous of all, drivers who don’t spot you crossing the street. There are also dog walkers with three or more canines who with their four-legged charges occupy an entire width of a sidewalk. “Excuse me,” we say as we try to walk around them.

When Barbara was recently in New York City for several days, she logged between 15,000 and 20,000 steps per day. Besides walking from here and there—up to a favorite museum, down to a restaurant to meet friends, she also walked from the top of a favorite store down to the lowest level rather than take elevators or escalators. Going at her own pace made the outing more fun, she finds.

At the end of her stay, she was exhausted, but it was an exhilarating kind of tiredness. And it offered surprises, including running into a favorite physician on one walk, whom she didn’t recognize at first since the doctor had traded her stilettos that she’s known for and her white doctor’s coat for comfortable walking shoes and “normal” attire.

While we are very happy walking alone, we sometimes walk with family or friends, and that can be hard for us if we must slow down. We both tend to walk really fast. However, we try to be considerate of other’s paces rather than end up a block ahead.

What do you do when the weather doesn’t permit a brisk stroll outside unless you are immune to the elements, as many compulsive walkers tend to be? (We both fear ice and snow because of falling). There is always a solution: Walk inside on a treadmill, nearby mall or up and down all the aisles of a large supermarket. This can be quite pleasant. You’ll wave at others who have the same idea and maybe make a new friend or two in the process.

And if you go up and down stairs when it's a multi-level mall, all the better. Climbing stairs is the best and Barbara will do so in her two-story home multiple times a day. But when “malling it,” there is one unhealthy temptation, Margaret reveals. She likes to head to the nearest cookie counter or candy store to reward herself for a super workout.   

We ask: What are you waiting for? Just don your best walking shoes and socks and appropriate other clothing so you’re not too warm or cold and maybe a backpack rather than a heavy purse. For us, after eating breakfast or lunch, we often head out the door to take a walk whether to enjoy some fresh air or to do errands. In doing so, who knows, perhaps, today, we’ll come up with our next great idea for a bestseller. 



1 comment

  • Lynn Harria

    Excellent article. I started walking during the pandemic when everything was shut down. I walk 3-4 miles every day and find it helpful in many of the ways you articulate in this blog!

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