I feel like walking is an under-rated, slightly maligned form of exercise. The lazy man’s exercise. It’s a workout for old people or people coming off a long ailment or injury. For those who aren’t committed enough to their fitness to take on running or the gym or boutique classes. People who are scared of the pain supposedly required for gain.
I feel like walking provides something that more rigorous forms of exercise don’t give you, though: mindfulness.
Granted this may not be the case for everyone, but for me, if I’m in a gym or class or running, my mind is always on my body. I’m thinking about how much I hurt and how hard I need to focus and breathe to push through. I’m thinking about the instructor and trying to perform whatever is being asked of me. I’m bored (especially if I’m in a gym) and trying to keep my attention on my goals. I never get out of my own head.
Walking on the other hand takes little to no thought. Particularly if I’m in a pedestrian-friendly zone without a lot of cars or cross walks, I can forget all about my body entirely. Instead I focus on everything else around me. Trees, wildlife, architecture, the way the air smells or feels, the quality of the light. I meander down paths and let my mind wander as well. For however long I’m walking, I’m not thinking about my body at all or my life and problems. I’m transported to a secret world where beauty is everywhere. There are a gazillion details to my surroundings to become absorbed in. My mind opens up to bigger, deeper questions. All of my minor aches and pains (which have increased as I get older) and the piddly concerns of the day-to-day drift away.
I achieve this sometimes in yoga. Particularly when I’m doing a familiar flow without an instructor, my body goes on autopilot and my brain simply goes…elsewhere. That’s probably why walking and yoga are my exercises of choice, and why I’ll never run a marathon.
While I may not burn as many calories this way, I get some healthful activity, time in the fresh air disconnected from screens and troubles, and tap into a wide open emotional space where simplicity and gratitude flow freely. For me, the purpose of exercise is as much mental health as physical. The emotional lightness I feel after a walk is a massive reward.