The joy and benefits of winter walking.
Doing some research a few years back, I found that the average person walks less than 200 miles a year, at a clip of 3mph. That involves everything—trips to the bathroom, the car waiting in the driveway. In other words, we don’t walk much at all. If there was a hovercraft that could transport humans from the parking lot to the store, they’d probably take it.
As the various strands of COVID continue to morph, and the fears that seemed to be abetting give way to new ones, I think a lot about how little we walk and how much it can do. There’s the physical component. Walking is good for heart health—which, neglected, is far more likely to trigger your demise than COVID—and is easy on the joints, unlike running. Even if one is not Johnny GymBag, it’s not hard to become a formidable walker.
There are advantages to walking in all seasons, but there’s nothing like being a winter walker. People will say, “I am not going out in that cold to freeze my rear off,” but walk once in winter, and attitudes change. That’s when we really feel the value of walking beyond the physical while getting all of the benefits of what it does for our bodies.
I’m a regular winter walker, and it’s vital for my mental health. You won’t see that many others out. Even here, in a city like Boston, you feel like you have the joint to yourself. There’s something psychologically-boosting about that. A rush of endorphins. You might be one person in a giant city, but you’re that individual en plein air taking a kind of control of your life, your health, how you think.
The sunless days of winter facilitate thinking. You’re alone, and so maybe you hum a tune, sing a little, remember art you’ve enjoyed. I always find that after a brisk winter walk I’m ravenous for books, films, plays, music, that can enhance my life. I want to listen to Miles Davis and read Keats’ letters that he wrote in winter. Take new plunges of discovery.
You layer up. Simple. Layers are one of the best things to ever happen to humans. Physical layers for warmth, and the layers that get developed inside, in time, which winter walking helps.
Sometimes I walk twenty miles, other times five, sometimes but one. All my lengths matter. The sky is like a blank canvas. The wind gives a nudge of, “what are you thinking now?” I can hear my own thoughts that I don’t hear quite the same indoors, and I certainly don’t hear them that way around other people. I’m hearing myself. I feel better about who I am. One feels bounding—like its possible to spring into anything.
There are days when I don’t want to be outside at all. I force myself. I don’t wait for my own approval. The last thing I want to do is get in gear, but when I am outside, I am changed, and I’m both grateful that I didn’t allow myself to take no for an answer, and I’m a little frightened because I also realize the day would have been a harder one without this walk and I almost let that happen.
I return home the same, but bigger, “boundier,” bolstered in spirit. It’s as simple as some layers, willingness, and the awareness of what is right there, awaiting you and your feet. Take a winter walk, and boost yourself that way. Your only regrets will be on the days you didn’t go.