A Long Walk Can Change Everything
When all you can do is take a walk, make it a moment for mindfulness
The way we walk right now might feel inhuman — it goes against our evolutionary wiring to avoid connecting with other people. When we see a neighbor, we wave from afar. We give strangers a wide berth. There are no coffee shops to stop at, no casual errands to run. It can seem like walking just for the sake of walking is not worth the effort.
But it is. It’s one of the most effective ways to connect with a world that feels increasingly distant — precisely because we can’t socialize.
I spent the past few years writing a book on the role of walking in our evolution, communities, and health. The process led me to see walking as central to being human. Turning your daily, seemingly aimless walks into a kind of moving meditation won’t stop the pandemic or restore jobs, but it can reduce your stress levels and rebuild a connection to the body that our stuck-inside minds desperately crave.
Instead of just being something to do, walking can be a reminder that many of us seek to live more deeply because what was previously considered normal life was so thoroughly unsatisfying. Walking helps us remember what it feels like to be fully alive.
Yes, walking counts as exercise
Walking outside is surprisingly cognitively demanding. Walking regularly strengthens mental health and our brain’s lifelong faculties, as well as our physical health. It strengthens our cardiovascular system but also lowers blood pressure and cortisol levels, reducing stress. Recently, when I’ve been stuck inside trying to help my kids understand fractions and feeling like my brain is about to blow like a steam train, I’m finding that getting us all outside and moving calms everyone’s nerves and restores our attention (and my patience).
That’s part of why moving your body is a really good idea right now. The most profound lesson that years of research has taught me is that there are things in life, like grief and loss, that we don’t “get through” or “get over.” Some experiences lodge within our bodies, and they require that we pause and probe deeply into loss or fear to examine what these feelings really are. They require…