The Best and Simplest Exercise of All

“Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake.”

 -Wallace Stevens

Movement in any form is the oldest form of exercise known to humans, but walking especially is something we’ve always done as soon as we could.  The benefits are innumerable, the importance immeasurable, particularly when walking outside.

IMG_9358As babies, it’s the moment when the first steps are taken that is the strongest moment of life commenement that establishes connection to the world around us.  The more we move the healthier we always are.

In the opposite direction, the cessation of walking, and stagnation in any form whether temporary, or brought about by disease, or old age, is typically the first sign of diminishing, or failing health.

“The idea is that flowing water never goes stale, so just keep on flowing.”  

-Bruce Lee

The truth of movement, not just in walking, but in any form of movement, doesn’t only apply to only humans, it’s the necessary ingredient for maximizing life force within, no matter the creature.  It seems the more you do it, and more you’re surrounded by nature, the more beneficial it becomes.  The importance and necessity of walking for maximal health has always emphasized, nomatter how far you go back in time:

“Walking is man’s best medicine.”

-Hippocrates

Walking is IMG_9353the primary primal activity that connects us with our primordial past and gets us in touch with our ancestors more so than any habit, like cooking our own food, working in the soil, taking manageable risks, elevating the heartrate to an uncomfortable degree on a regular basis, and varying the way we move, especially bending the body in a variety of ways, other than just the few common ways which the majority of us move today, which typically, mostly entails the common movements of sitting, standing, laying or the bending we do when getting into and out of mode of transportation.

It seems the further we get away from these movements, and the less consistent we do them, the more our health suffers, not just physically, but especially mentally.

“Things live by moving and gain strength as they go.”  

-Bruce Lee

Unfortunately most of those habits have become lost or disused with the modern convieniences fueling a belief that they are not needed as they once were.  On a pure IMG_9354survival basis of just living day to day the belief would appear true, as most of us get by without those activities in the short term, but upon participation in doing these activites we realize how crucial they are, and often come to the question in hindsight of what we would ever do without them.

Walking outdoors, especially in the woods, reminds the value of that truth more than any of the other truly necessary habits that we’ve gradually discarded over time, particularly the last fifty to hundred years or so, with modern technology, and things that we used to have to earn, becoming given to us.

Every single time I go for a long walk in the woods I am re-reminded of the value of walking.

“Walking is the best possible exercise.  Habituate yourself to walk very far.”

-Thomas Jefferson

So often when a walk begins the mind is occupied with a present or past problem, carrying the worries about something inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, or having having negative thoughts on a particular situation.  Sometimes even, I’ll even be muttering to myself and having imaginary dialogue in my head about a situation that has, or hasn’t even happened yet, and possibly may never will.  It’s wasteful, negative energy, and doesn’t do me, or anyone in my presence any good.

Once the walk starts though, and the further I travel, the faster those thoughts dissipate.  Often the hefty burden of those thoughts are carried with at the beginning of a walk, but they quickly fade away, and seem to be discarded, left behind in the trail along with the footsteps.  As the walk extends, you’re forced to start to live in the moment of the walk, and begin to fully realize your small place in the world in comparison to your worries.  A truer perspective is attained, and everything is placed in a more positive light.

Even many hours after the hike, the feeling remains.

“After a day’s walk, everything has twice its usual value.”  

-Macauley Trevelyan

The funny thing about those proprietary, innumerable benefits (that cannot be replicated or attained any other way than by walking outside,) is that no matter

IMG_5591
Stella needs hikes for her mental health

how often you do it, you forgot how valuable it is, until you’re back out doing it again. 

Walking is recharging the batteries of your soul, not to mention your physical and mental batteries, and the more you do it, the more charged up you are in all aspects of life.  There is nothing in the world more valuable, besides oxygen, and knowledge of gravity.  Though added to that list would be the benefits of regular exercise, a nutrtitious diet, friendships with fellow humans, and relationship with some animal life form, even if only by spectating, like you always will do on a nature hike.

“We ought to take outdoor walks, to refresh and raise our spirits by deep breathing in the open air.”   -Seneca

Adding to the innumerable physical benefits of walking outside, especially in the woods, are other benefits include a huge reduction in the chances of IMG_9355obtaining a cold or flu, along with the calorie burning benefits, (especially in cold or hot extremes) as well as the irreplaceable mental health and spiritual betterment attained from being surrounded with fresh air, sunlight, birds, and other creatures of the forest.  It’s something that cannot be understated.

Besides the negative mental subtraction that a long walk affords, another huge bonus is the postive mental addition it encourages by way of idea creation, perspective alteration, as well as the gratitude attained from having warm shelter when the walk’s done (especially when it’s really cold).  Every single time a hike happens I either get a new idea for a blog post or an idea to add to a previous one, or a different perspective or outlook on how to deal with a problem.

“Only thoughts won by walking are valuable.”  Friedrich Nietzsche

Even if you haven’t yet realize the many magical benefits of a walk in the woods, it’s never to late to start realizing them now.

IMG_9199
Canines know the value of a hike.

It will be like a book or a song that you once read, or heard, or a person that believed or inspired you, that forever gifted and changed your perspective for the better, and made you wonder in hindsight what you would have done without, except the difference with the walk is that it is a gift that keeps on giving, (as long as you recharge the batteries).

The best gift anyone can give another person, yourself included, especially with New Year’s coming up, is the gift of a State Park Pass.  There is no better investment in your health.  When it comes to the potential physical benefits, it’s equal to the potential mental benefits of a library card.

Well, enough writing for today.  Though it’s enjoyable to do and a good release for thoughts to flow out that otherwise may have been pent inside, I’ve got a hike to attend to.

“The Woods are calling and I must go.” -John Muir

 

Notes

*Magazine pictures taken from “Rodales Organic Life,” May/June 2015 issue that included the article “55 benefits of walking.”

More great info here from Rodale; “Your body on walking .”

Feature image is from a hike I took yesterday.  Though it was -10 below the sun was out and there was barely a breeze, so it actually felt like it was twice as warm. As long as you layer up, dress prepared, and keep moving any cold weather can be conducive to a good hike.  Plus, the colder it is, the more you appreciate the warmth once your inside, and the better you’ll usually sleep.  As you can see, a facemask is helpful when it’s below zero.  Though it doesn’t have to be a Jason Vorhees mask, it’s often fun to shapeshift into someone or something else on hikes sometimes!  Some times I’ll follow an animal trail, or let Stella follow her nose and lead the way, and by doing so, you walk down a new path, and it also often makes you bend in ways you otherwise might not in daily life, (like the other week when Stinky went under a pair of thick fallen tree branches, and the only way I could follow is by crawling on my belly like a serpent until I cleared the fallen trees.  She got a kick out of it too, sprinting up with a goofy smile just as my head cleared the last branch, stopping suddenly, and spraying snow in my face, while lightly head butting me in an attempt to stall my progress.

Here’s a slideshow of pictures I’ve taken from hikes over the years (mostly in Minnesota, the ones with mountains were mostly taken in Eastern Montana, (Livingston and Bozeman and surrounding counties for the most part).

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This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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