The skeletons in my workout closet are many-an unused athletic club membership, a dusty NordicTrack, a lonely ab-buster. All purchased with the best of intentions. But, alas, they have all fallen to the same fate: while they may have physically challenged me, mentally I was “bored out of my gourd.” Consequently, I became a fitness failure, a workout wannabe.
Then one day my family upset me. Husband, sons, the cat; I can’t remember which one started it, but in the end I decided to take a walk to blow off steam. After 10 minutes I felt better. And after 20 minutes the argument seemed miles away.
That was 18 months ago, and I’m still walking-two and a half miles nearly every day. But as I discovered on that first walk, it’s not just my body that benefits from these daily jaunts. My overall mental well-being gets a great workout as well. I deliberately walk early in the morning, before most of the people have left their warm beds.
I usually walk alone, although having my husband accompany me occasionally is a nice change. And I never take a headset. Instead I listen to the birds waking up, the soothing noises made by a sprinkler system or a garden fountain, and the sounds of my own heart and breath.
Like everyone else’s, my life is a busy one. With so much to accomplish each day, I’ve always prided myself on doing two or more things at once, and my morning walks are no exception. During these 20 to 30 minutes of solitude, my mind is as active as my muscles. And this combination of mental and physical exercise is the reason that I’ve stuck to my walking regime better than I have to any other workout.
So just exactly what are the mental calisthenics that keep me so enthused, and what will they do for you?
1. Meditation and Prayer.
Whether you’re watching the sun come up over mountains or high-rises, there’s no better time to get in touch with God than at sunrise. This is the perfect time to be thankful for the days behind you, the day in front of you, and the beauty all around you.
2. Observation of Nature.
Logically following reason 1 is the observation of God’s handiwork in nature. It matters little whether you’re examining the delicate wings of a hummingbird hovering over a cactus blossom, or the prismlike reflection of an icicle hanging from a storefront, you’ll soon see this beauty everywhere. Walking allows you to make these studies much more easily than jogging or cycling. And the treadmill in a gym just can’t compare!
3. Awareness of Body.
Any walking expert is ready with advice on how to stride, what to do with your arms, how to maintain your posture, etc. I think it’s best to devise a combination of movements that seem to feel right to you. And concentrate on isolated muscle groups. I alternately tighten my abdomen and buttocks, rotate my shoulders, and stretch my neck. I listen to my heart and breathing and imagine them working in harmony throughout my workout.
4. Constructive Thought.
Having accomplished the first three, you’re now ready to look ahead to your day. As a writer, I always have a story idea or plot line that needs consideration. There are always parenting issues that need thoughtful resolutions, and travel, dinner, and household plans to be made. In addition, I make a short mental list each day of the few things that need to be accomplished. (Never more than three; too many items are easily forgotten and add to the stress I’m trying to resolve!)
5. Love Thy Neighbor.
My daily walks allow me to make a careful study of my neighborhood and the homes in it. I notice who’s made changes and if they were good ones. Once I played good Samaritan by reporting a car in a driveway that had been vandalized. (This also proved to be a lesson for me: I’m never without my pepper spray and loud whistle.) Another time I helped to rescue two lost and bewildered Canada geese (in the middle of suburban Phoenix!). The woman on whose door I pounded for assistance happened to be my cat’s veterinarian. I had never known she lived nearby.
Before you take off for your next walk, turn off your headset and turn on your senses. You might just be amazed at what your body and your mind can accomplish simultaneously!