Choose to Walk

Dr. Madalyn Otto

I’ve come up with every excuse in the book to justify not exercising at one point or another. I don’t have time – I lament as I prepare to watch a TV show. I can’t exercise on a full stomach – I whine as I deliberately slow down my dinner-eating. I’m out of shape and I don’t want to pull something today – I crow lazily. I don’t like to exercise when it’s raining – I conveniently moan on rainy days.

Are you shocked? I’m a naturopathic doctor; shouldn’t I love to exercise? Well I don’t really. At least not in the stereotypical sense. But I do love to walk, and I do love to ride my bicycle. I like having the quiet time to myself. I like fresh air. I like the sounds of birds in spring and summer and the sound of stillness during winter days. I like the sun on my face. As you hopefully already know, biking and walking are wonderful for our health. They reduce one’s risk of developing numerous chronic diseases, they elevate the mood and they improve bone and muscle health. I’d sure like to access more of these benefits within my own body and mind. But despite the pleasure I derived from walking, there were many days that I fell woefully short of the 10,000 daily steps the American Heart Association recommends as a general guideline for preventing heart disease. My job is sedentary, so unless I walk 3+ additional miles in after dinner, I wouldn’t be anywhere close to the guidelines. Like many people, I’d do pretty well in the summer during the week and supplement monster hikes and longer walks on the weekends. But as the days shortened and the weather cooled, the walks would find themselves further apart as did my other forms of exercise.

Back in October of 2019, long before the pandemic hit, I reached a point with myself where I was sick of all of my excuses that turned me sluggish during the winter months. I decided to shed my attachment to my car and start walking to work. Every day. Rain or shine. Sleet or snow. It is now 8 months later, we are in a new year with new problems, and my walking regimen keeps me sane. I absolutely love it. In fact, on the rare occasion that I’ve had to drive to work due to a midday meeting on the outskirts of town, I’ve actually been bummed that I didn’t get my walk.

For most people, consistent exercise provides an outlet for stress, a convenient break from the constant dull roar of the day. For me, it serves as a sacred time where I can just be; no expectations, no worries, just a peaceful walk to clear and cleanse my mind. I savor the morning walk that allows me to center myself and my awareness before “plugging in” for a full day of patients. I relish the evening walk home where I can de-congest the content of the day and have some alone time before arriving home. I truly feel that the practice has made me a better doctor and a better spouse.

I’m writing about walking this week because it’s incredibly simple, yet an effective way of achieving so much of the medicine we all need right now. We need “me-time”; we need to decompress; we need time to wash our brains of stress; we need sunshine on our faces; we need to hear the birds; and we need to move our bodies as they were designed to be moved. I’m a big fan of “feeding two birds with one seed” as I like to say, and walking is a stellar way of accomplishing this. It’s nourishment for the mind, the body and the soul all at once. For an extra bonus – we’re entering summer-time. A great time to make a commitment to a walking ritual that will last through the colder months as well.

But I’m working from home! – you shout at your computer screen as you’re reading this. But I live nowhere near my work! – you cry as you throw your hands up in the air. A walking ritual doesn’t have to do anything with your work as mine has become. Nor do you have to do it alone if you’d prefer not to. This was simply the right way for me to incorporate it into my day because I have to go to work anyway, it’s not terribly far away, and I deeply enjoy the time alone. You might make the walk a family activity that everyone engages in after dinner. Maybe you catch up with your friend or parent on the phone or in person while walking instead of sitting on the couch or tidying up. Perhaps that podcast you listen to or that book you read can be listened to during your morning or evening walk, instead. Maybe you opt for the bicycle so you can reach further horizons and see new scenery each day. If you have a joint condition that prevents walking, try cycling instead.

Whatever the ritual you determine works for you, make the choice to get outdoors and move your body. Walk if you’re physically able. Walk for your mind. Walk for your body. Walk for your soul.

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