For almost a quarter century I have spent my life planted behind a desk, working and playing with computers and the online (Intra and inter) world. I exercised once in awhile but, for the most part, was content to delude myself into thinking exercising my intellect was sufficient. I knew it wasn’t true, but there was so much to learn and so many things to do, I just couldn’t get off my ass and get the exercise I needed.
This is not the entire truth. Shortly after my 46th birthday, I was summarily drafted to play in a golf tournament being conducted by the Program Office where I worked. I reluctantly agreed and decided it might be best to prepare — that is go to the driving range and hit a few balls — something I had only done once since I determined golf was for old men back when I was 15 years old.
I played in that tournament and within a short while found myself returning to the range on a daily basis. I was hooked. So I got some exercise — I stretched, swung, and walked a fair amount. I did almost every day, sometimes all day, for a few years. You can walk a lot playing 18 holes of golf; as much as five miles (if you play what they call “Army” golf — left, right, left) and I liked to carry my clubs.
Unfortunately,a few years later a crippling attack of Sciatica put a giant crimp, and an indeterminate hold, on my ability to play the game. That was followed shortly thereafter by a decision to adopt, which pretty much ended golf for me. So, for the most part, I’ve remained behind a desk.
Last month, with the entry of our oldest to middle school, which now makes it necessary for our girls to be taken to schools separately, I made the decision to walk our youngest to school each morning. I purchased some walking shoes online, downloaded an app to my phone for keeping track of my walks, and set off to change things a bit.
I should point out I’m now 66 years old and all those sedentary years don’t just drop off in the face of moderate activity, like they used to in . . . say . . . my thirties. Nevertheless, I’ve been pretty diligent and, save for Thursday mornings when I have a Rotary Club breakfast meeting to attend at 7:00 am, I’ve walked my daughter to school every day.
The walking is still a bit tiring, even though it’s only a mile I’m covering round trip. What I have discovered, however, is the difference in perception from when I’m in a vehicle. Most of us probably don’t realize it, but when we’re in our vehicles the majority of our senses are either stunted or deprived of input.
We see, but most of the things we look at are related to either safety or arriving at a particular destination. We can’t afford to actually pay attention to much else. We hear, but almost all aural input comes from inside the vehicle, unless someone honks at us or an emergency vehicle approaches, siren screaming. We smell little, save for the occasional wafting of BBQ, hamburger, or other food odors. We touch and taste nothing.
Not so on foot. One of the first things I noticed was the houses and yards of my neighbors. Sure, I’d seen them all before many times, but not with the clarity I’m seeing them now. I hear sprinklers, vehicles, children on bicycles and scooters, crows foraging, and other birds singing. I can smell the grass or even stop and smell the roses (or other flowers), and I can touch and taste anything I feel like, though I doubt I’ll be doing much of the latter.
The point is, walking puts you in the middle of things, whereas driving kind of puts you in a layer sitting on top of things. A vehicle serves as insulation, a cocoon of plastic, rubber, and steel. You can roll up the windows, turn on the radio or CD, and sever all but the most necessary of ties with just about everything around you. This isn’t possible when walking. You walk in the same layer as everything around you. Even the vehicles that pass are an important part, because you have to ensure they don’t impinge on the layer you’re in and end up seriously ruining your day.
Another benefit for me is I get to hold my daughter’s hand on the way and her incessant and zany questioning about my preferences amongst lists of things she will provide for me (“would you rather eat Jell-O or be a Zebra?”) becomes more like a game, and less of a distraction. So this walking thing is clearly beneficial for both of us, in at least two ways. I believe I’m going to continue this behavior. You should try it.