by Brent Hearn •
Want a better, more fulfilling Life? Good news: It’s within walking distance.
Here’s a question for you: How much of your life do you spend indoors? If your answer lies somewhere between “Almost all of it” and “Where else is there?” you’re not alone. An oft-cited study by the EPA found that Americans spend less than 8% of their time outdoors. If that seems like a depressing statistic, well…that’s because it (quite literally) is. But, more on that later.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic reared its ugly head, our shift to staying cooped up was understandable. With the gradual shift over preceding decades to office work and the increasing ubiquity of internet access—and all the streaming services and funny cat videos that come with it—we have less and less motivation to spend time outside.
However, just because it’s understandable doesn’t mean it’s ideal. Going for a walk in the great outdoors can pay massive dividends for a better life by boosting your body, your brain, your mood, and your relationships.
The physical benefits of walking are well documented and widely known at this point: weight loss (particularly in the abdomen), better cardiovascular health, lower risk of death by stroke, better sleep…the list goes on and on. Walking is a “no excuse” activity that requires no special skill or athletic prowess, and it can pay lifelong dividends for your health.
Forget every tired stereotype you’ve ever heard pitting jocks against nerds. The truth of the matter is that being physically fit can make you smarter. And walking is one of the easiest, cheapest, most accessible ways to increase physical fitness. Among other things, exercise can increase circulation to your brain, help stave off the degeneration of brain tissue, and improve memory and attention.
Walking is better for more than just IQ points, though. It can help energize your creativity. Aristotle, Henry David Thoreau, and Steve Jobs (among many others) have used walking as a tool for deeper thinking. From the rhythm of your feet hitting the ground to the attention-freeing nature of…well, nature, walking is great for getting those creative juices flowing.
Exercise can work as a natural antidepressant. It can also speed up the process of neurogenesis (the creation of new brain cells), which can, in turn, put a damper on our stress response. It may not be a cure-all, but for many of us, it can be a cure-some, and in these stressful times, that’s not too shabby.
Let’s go back to Steve Jobs for a moment. He loved a good walking meeting and, apparently, he had the right idea. As it turns out, taking a walk with someone can help build connection between people. They don’t even have to know each other. In fact, they don’t even have to talk while they’re walking. Want to become closer to a coworker or acquaintance? Take a walk with them.
A healthier body, a more active brain, a better mood, and better relationships are all within reach. The catch? You’ll need to ditch the glow of those office lights and overworked screens—at least for long enough to take a walk—to find them.