You know sometimes you do that thing when you’re typing something into a search engine and it autocompletes the phrase for you and you think “Huh? People search for that?” Well here’s a thing that people have typed enough times that my search engine thought it might be what I was wanting to say: is walking worth it? Now, when I read that, I felt the breath in my lungs become sentient and leave my body in a disgusted sigh. I felt my hope for humanity seeping from the pores of my skin. I felt the kinship between myself and my fellow humans fizzle away to a crust. Is walking worth it?
This is a Public Service Announcement: walking is worth it.
Imagine inventing a living thing. Imagine the design phase. “Okay guys, so we need to get it moving - any thoughts?” Wheels? Bit limited. Can’t really climb stairs or relax with wheels. Hovering? Could be fun? Flight? Bit messy. “Hey, here’s an idea: what if we gave it two stick things and - get this - every time it uses them, it’s making itself healthier and happier?”
I mean, it’s almost too good to be true.
Even a walk through an open plan office takes you out of yourself a little bit. Oh look, there’s Simon having a pretendy-fun but actually deadly serious argument with Dierdre in the office kitchen about how to stock the dishwasher. Oh there’s that dude in finance who looks like my uncle Pete. Oooh got to remember to call Mum. Oh yay someone left cake in the kitchen! Once you’ve got yourself a cup of tea or a stapler or a slice of something, you’ve had a bit of a mental stretch and you’ve not even noticed. Walking: good for your body and your uncle Pete.
Ever noticed how, if you have a problem to think through, or a speech you need to practice, and you try and think it through on a walk, you can’t? That’s because a walk is like that magical friend who distracts you from obsessing about something and focuses all your attention on something else until the problem doesn’t seem important. If a walk can’t divert you from your troubles, the minimum result is that you probably brought your blood pressure down.
When you go on walks you get to meet a lot of dogs. Just saying. Try and have a bad time when a dog is pleased to see you.
You’ve probably read all those stats about how many megatons of pollution would be saved if everybody walked small distances instead of driving a car. Walking is a positively heroic mode of transport.
There’s a lot written about the demise of the quiet walk, and the fact that walks used to be our down time. Time to feel our noisy thoughts fall away. Yes! True, so true. So wise and so true. Also though: podcasts! Music! We listen and we learn, and we imprint our ideas and thoughts on the world we’re walking through, and by the time we get home we know about nanoparticles, the history of goat herding, and Mozart. Plus we went to the shops!
Going for walks, you get to see things, and hear things in such a serendipitous way that sometimes you can’t believe your luck. Personally, on walks, I often find myself turning to see if anyone else is bearing witness to whatever is going on, but the beauty of it is: it’s in the wild. You’re capturing the moment in its natural habitat. You’re its only audience. I once overheard two women talking in a park while walking briskly together in fitness gear. One was explaining to the other that her husband was “making a conceited effort to do the dishes”. I thought she misspoke, but then I overheard a few more things and when I imagined her husband at home I suddenly wasn’t so sure.
Recently, I passed a priest in the carpark of a local church. He was wearing a huge cross around his neck and was dressed for Sunday with the exception of his footwear - worn, grey sneakers. He was pointing a loud leaf blower into the corner of an autumn-leafed car park. Doing God’s work, presumably. I looked at him and went to smile but he gave me a tiny eye-roll, and so I laughed. Never would have happened if walks weren’t worth it.
This is a Public Service Announcement: for heaven’s sake, go for a walk. Walks are always worth it.
This was first published in The Big Issue.