Walking is More Than Just Good Exercise
Greenville is on the move literally. This month hundreds of people are
participating in Greenville Walks, a community wellness initiative
designed by Furman University in collaboration with the Greenville city
Parks Department, the Greenville County Recreation District, the YMCA of
Greenville, Bon Secours St. Francis Health System and the Greenville
Hospital System. The purpose of this new annual program is twofold: to
promote walking as a form of regular exercise and in the process
encourage greater use of our city, county and state parks.
Walks builds upon the extraordinary success of the Greater Greenville
Shrinkdown, which enrolled more than 3,400 people this winter in a
concerted effort to address the epidemic of obesity and promote
healthier living. Greenville Walks encourages everyone, young and old,
thin and not-so-thin, to walk 30 minutes a day, five days per week.
all exercises," said Thomas Jefferson, "walking is the best." Today
walking is the preferred exercise for more and more Americans. It offers
many virtues. Sauntering is the most natural form of exercise. It
requires neither expensive equipment nor a health club membership. Its
physical benefits are obvious: Vigorous walking tones muscles,
strengthens heart muscles and bones, burns calories and is easy on the
Walking is the fastest way to well-being. As the
pre-eminent British historian George Trevelyan explained, "I have two
doctors my left leg and my right leg."
A strenuous hike is also
intellectually invigorating and emotionally relaxing. Walking boosts
memory and sharpens judgment. It excites thinking by increasing blood
flow and by removing us from the mad rush of our daily routine. It
allows us to shrug off time and live in the present, savoring our
solitary moments in stride.
Walking is often a form of meditation
in motion. The mind roams freely with the ever-changing rhythm of
moving feet and changing scenery. Henry David Thoreau, perhaps America's
most famous walker, celebrated the mental stimulation of sauntering:
"Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to
Walking can also be a catalyst for civic engagement.
Automobiles separate us from each other. Our motorized 4,000-pound steel
cocoons isolate us from community. We pass by people rather than engage
them, observing them through moving windows. By contrast, a walk
through the neighborhood renews our sense of place; it affords
opportunities to see and talk with neighbors and to immerse oneself in
the subtle, intangible, but soul-deep festival of landscape, smells,
sounds, history, schools, storefronts, neighbors and friends that
constitute a community.
Likewise, walking not only stimulates our
senses by encouraging us to be more observant of the world around us;
it also invites us to look inward and be more honest with ourselves.
"Your feet will bring you where your heart is," says an Irish proverb.
Along a woodland path or on a city sidewalk or windswept beach, we strip
away the camouflage of our chaotic public lives and engage in a candid
conversation with ourselves.
John Muir, the indefatigable
promoter of wilderness preservation who founded the Sierra Club, was
addicted to hiking, in part because it opened a window to his soul:
"Going out, I found, was really going in."
Walking can also be
mentally soothing. The lope of locomotion strips us of anxieties. By
slowing down our runaway lives and helping us focus on the journey
rather than the destination, walking helps stretch time and loosen
memories. The complex psychology of walking buoys and balances our
moods. Serenity often comes with sauntering; trekking eases our
The brilliant 19th-century Danish philosopher Soren
Kierkegaard declared that every day "I walk myself into a state of
well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into
my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot
walk away from it ... if one just keeps on walking, everything will be
The lesson is simple: Grab your shoes and get moving. Serenity awaits.