Five Good Reasons to Take a Walk!
© B. L. Bierley 2012
In my youth, I was active and in fantastic shape. I worked out five days a week and my abs were well-defined! If I knew you well enough, I could provide at least one picture’s worth of evidence to prove it. After I had children, I began to rank exercise much lower on my priority list. It was probably somewhere between scooping kitty litter and cleaning the oven. My metabolism decided to take an extended vacation around the time I hit thirty. It’s been gone for a little over a decade now with no hint of its ever returning. So now, as much as I hate the idea, I must exercise again.
I’m not obese yet, not totally. However, I have already had to purchase clothing in a higher size range. I was small/medium for most of my life, but now I am medium/large. And if the constriction lines are any indication, I’m edging into the large/extra-large pit of doom as we speak. I cannot afford another new wardrobe in a larger size, people! But that still isn’t enough motivation for me to get off my dumpy behind (and away from my computer keyboard) and exercise. So recently I sat down on Cap’s exercise ball and came up with this list of motivational reasons why I should take a walk. I’ll list them in descending order to save the best points for last!
5: How Else Can You Know Your Neighborhood?
When I walk in my neighborhood, it’s more than just a walk. I have plenty of time to observe things. As a writer by nature, my keen powers of observation begin to peak the minute I move away from my own front yard. I become a private eye, a psychologist, a “Nosy Rosie” and an advocate for cleaner sidewalks! But mostly I just make mental notes on everything I see along the way. I never realized I lived among such an interesting variety of people until I started walking.
In order for you to get the full effect of my observations, let me show you what goes on inside my head on a typical evening stroll.
“7:21 PM, Leaving the house. I hear a curious sound of running water as Velcro pulls me up the hill (more on Velcro’s involvement later). I begin to wonder if the strange woman on the corner has gotten a fountain. I recall last Halloween she was wishing us all a ‘Merry Christmas’ when she opened the door. I knew in that instant she was a mite peculiar. Now I’m hearing water but I don’t see any water feature of any kind. Either there’s a leak, or she’s left the hose on. I debate for a moment going up and knocking on the door to alert her about the problem, but then I finally see the fountain just at the edge of the front porch. Crisis averted, I move on."
“Mr. O.C. Persnickety’s house is coming up. Recalling how he was pruning some of the growth in his yard, I hurry ahead to see how he’s grouped the debris this time. Instead of putting his sticks and leaves in one pile at the curb, O.C. goes above and beyond. His piles are organized and grouped into categories. As I draw near, I see he’s added a new category. He’s got his usual: Large Wood/Fire Wood, Small Woody Stem and Large Woody Stem. Then he has his leafy piles—Green Leaf and Brown Leaf. The new category pile appears to be branches pruned from some type of flowering bush or shrub. I give it the category name: Floral Pruning. Just as I’m about to move past the intriguing curb organization, O.C. and his dog venture out of the house. His dog is also a persnickety creature who instantly takes offense at Velcro’s presence in his yard. A loud spate of yappy barking begins and I tighten Velcro’s leash and hurry on around the corner."
“The yellow house with the tornado damage continues to look uninhabited. The car in the driveway looks much cleaner after the recent rains, however the tires are still surrounded by run-off debris. The back left tire appears to be in the early stages of dry rot. I say a small prayer of hope that the owners are alright, but I hurry along because the ominous emptiness still scares the bejesus out of me."
“I wave to the other neighbors I see walking. Some of them I know, others I have never seen before. I see what appears to be small-dog poop in the sidewalk. I get angry with people who ignore their animals’ offal and leave it for unsuspecting walkers to get on their shoes. I steer Velcro around the interesting smells and make a mental note to go on Facebook and post a comment on our neighborhood page about people’s rudeness. Then I have a minor daydream about pulling a stakeout to see who the offender is, collecting the ‘evidence’ and depositing it right beside the owner’s car door where they’ll be sure to see it as they leave for work in their nice dress shoes!"
“I am ducking to get beneath some tree branches that haven’t been pruned back from the sidewalk, grumbling about poop and yard maintenance, when I hear the tell-tale sounds of the pygmies. Actually they’re a group of small children who play in two or three yards in a row. I call them the Poplar Pygmies because I cannot understand their language or primitive behavior. I don’t recall DaVelma or Ziggy ever being as wild and free in their younger days as these little ones are (and by that I mean running around with no visible supervision to speak of). Again, Velcro and I make tracks. I’m sure one day they’re going to assemble crude weapons, set a trap to catch us, use Velcro’s leash to tie me to a tree and light my shoes on fire."
“As we turn the corner for home, I notice that several yards in the ‘Good Housekeeping’ sector of the street have all got their sprinklers working at the same time. Velcro and I have to make a decision. Do we run in the middle of the street and risk being flattened by a teenaged driver, or do we try to time our progress with the oscillation and hope we don’t get wet? We make a run for it, dodging the drops and screaming and yelping when the too-fast ground sprinklers chase us as we get within range. Velcro is panting and looking at me with wide-eyed confusion—not certain if he’s happy or terrified, but staying close to me nonetheless. We get home and fall into the front door in exhaustion.”
4: Pets Need Exercise Too!
As you’ve probably guessed, Velcro becomes “attached” to whichever human in the household he spies putting on athletic clothing and sneakers. He’s not a dummy. Velcro actually enjoys the walk (sprinkler nightmares aside). It’s good for him to get the exercise too. Velcro is somewhat confused in his behavior. We think because Scooby is his closest older “sibling” it has caused some confusion with Velcro’s grooming habits. Velcro cleans his feet and muzzle by licking and rubbing his damp paws over his eyes and nose. He also licks his legs and feet excessively for other reasons. Our vet says that it’s dry skin or possibly allergies. Walking Velcro seems to remove some of his temptation to lick, either because he’s too tired or because the fresh air makes him feel better. Of course when walking him doesn’t solve the issue, we just give him a bite of “magic cheese” (two Benadryl tablets wrapped in a slice of American cheese). Velcro loves his magic cheese, and we love how mellow it makes him!
Velcro also needs to explore his environment beyond just his back yard. He should see what other animals are in his territory. Every mailbox and shrub along the way provides a clue to the inhabitants of the various sectors of our neighborhood. Velcro isn’t one to “mark”, though. We’ve never allowed him to do his “business” on a walk unless we’re traveling and it’s absolutely necessary. Unfortunately this caused some problems in his puppyhood when we first started going camping every weekend. Velcro would hold his “big business” until he returned home. Sometimes he’d sprint from the vehicle the moment the door opened in the driveway and make for his favorite spot in the back yard. If we forgot to leave the gate ajar, he’d dance along the pavers until someone took pity and hurried over to let him through the gate. Eventually he learned to get over his aversion to public pooping and used the spot in our favorite campground designated specifically for the canine population to do their “business”! But on our home neighborhood walks he’s only allowed to sniff and observe.
Our cat Scooby needs exercise too. But unfortunately taking him along on the evening walks would be more hazardous than useful. Still, I laugh as I imagine strapping him into a harness and dragging him bodily from the house. At least his nails would be filed by the concrete sidewalks as he struggled to escape his fate. For now, I’ll just let him do his regular workout routine: trying to avoid whatever Cap throws at him when he sharpens his claws on the furniture, the yoga mat, or Ziggy’s bedroom door and jumping from the higher pieces of furniture to ambush the unsuspecting Velcro when Scooby’s in a saucy mood.
3: It’s a Great Way to Have Time to Talk!
Often in our lives we go about our activities and forget to communicate adequately with our loved ones. Taking a walk with a child or spouse can provide opportunities for you to reconnect. Sometimes Cap and I will take Velcro and walk at a moderate pace through the neighborhood just so that we can catch up with what’s going on with one another! Even if it doesn’t optimize our efforts as far as workouts go, it’s quality time. And when we walk along the topics don’t have to be censored the way they would if we were at home, with Ziggy and DaVelma within earshot and always listening to EVERYTHING we’re saying when we aren’t talking to them. Of course I don’t recommend a walk if you’re arguing. I believe it would be uncomfortable for the neighbors if you took your domestic disturbances on the road. But for regular, amiable chatter a walk is the perfect venue!
Whenever I have had a rotten day, I walk along and vent the frustrations and stress by having an internal conversation. I don’t necessarily always keep it to myself. That’s why I love Bluetooth so much. I don’t actually use it. But if I walk along, ranting and making a running commentary of my crappy day, most people nowadays just think I’m on a Bluetooth phone headset. Of course, it’s just the crazy writer-lady talking to her dog or occasionally just herself, but they don’t need to know that!
2: Walking Doesn’t Require Much Balance, Stamina or Coordination!
Well, maybe some of each would be a little handy. But a walk is a great way to start out an exercise regimen if you’ve been sedentary for a long time. Walking has no choreography. It doesn’t follow a set pattern or path. You can walk slow or fast depending on your ability or time limit. If you want a challenge, take a side street with a greater incline on your return so you can work those thigh muscles and abdominals! You can carry along a bottle of water to rehydrate! But most importantly if you don’t walk the same way the others are walking, nobody will care! With yoga programs or aerobic cardio workouts, you have to follow along or risk stepping on other people’s toes or crashing into them when you fall. A walk is your style, your pace and your choice of path.
When I walk, I switch up my route at least once a week in order to add variety and challenge to my progress. It helps combat boredom, gives me the opportunity to see more of the neighborhood and I learn something new about the people I live among every time I try a different hill or slope! I see others walking in different patterns and routes too. Some are faster walkers, some run or jog, but every one of them is only held to their routine by personal choice! Eventually walking can evolve into something more, too. After a few days at a leisurely pace, I stepped up my game with Velcro and tried to jog on a couple of the parallel streets, going back to walking on the perpendicular lanes. It was too soon, and I pulled a muscle in my right buttock. I didn’t let it stop me from going back out there the next day—at a much slower pace!
1: It’s Free and Always Available!
Walking is the most affordable exercise I’ve ever done. You don’t have to pay a membership to take a walk. You can do it in any weather you feel like braving! And it doesn’t matter if it’s a holiday, a Sunday or a random Tuesday afternoon. Walking is available twenty-four hours a day! I walked a lot in my youth. I walked the foothills of my Small Town, Alabama hometown with my dog running alongside me for companionship and protection. I walked with my sisters to the church just a stone’s throw down the road. I walked to a friends’ house to visit.
When I was in college, a friend and I would arm ourselves with our pepper spray and house keys and take a walk to our memorable campus square or the library steps in any weather and for any whim! It was cheaper than driving our cars, which held the precious gasoline needed to get us home to get our laundry done and get a home-cooked meal that didn’t have ramen noodles as the main ingredient. We would walk to guest lectures, concerts, football games, anywhere we needed to go.
Weather was hardly ever an issue because walking was more economically sound on my shoestring budget. Winters in Alabama aren’t as terrible as say Maine or Michigan winters could be, so bundling up and walking briskly to class was usually refreshing and kept you warm enough. In the spring I knew not to walk on the street near the Sunshine Factory located unless I wanted to wear polka-dots courtesy of the birds who would hang out in the trees beside that particular avenue, lured by the smell of freshly baked bread. I usually wore a reliable jacket that could double as a raincoat, and I kept extra shoes and a Ziploc bag in my backpack for rainy days or scattered showers just so I wouldn’t squish as I made my way to my usual seat in the middle of the lecture hall. I’m amazed at how much I rely on my car these days when walking around was once my main source of day to day transportation. It’s so easy to forget how we used to exist, never thinking twice about strapping on shoes and heading wherever we needed to go! But once we get jobs and lives it seems that distance and that terrible task-master time act as natural deterrents to our healthy choices!
So What Are We Waiting For?
There’s no time like the present, folks. When you get home today, whether it’s sunny or rainy, cloudy or cool, put on something comfortable and find suitable shoes and go take a walk. You’ll feel better. Your pets or family members can come too! It’s the best way to bond and make that lifestyle change you’ve been putting off for far too long! Maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll see Velcro and me as we dodge the sprinklers and laugh as we jog for home!