One of the best forms of exercise doesn’t require expensive equipment, trendy fitness DVDs or a gym membership. Everyone from Thomas Jefferson to health guru Dr. Oz have touted the benefits of walking.
All I know is that while my “Buns of Steel” DVD gathers dust on my shelf, my walking shoes wear out on a regular basis.
Six years ago, I started taking a 3 ¾-mile walk several times a week because I wanted the physical benefits of a regular exercise routine. But what has kept me walking is the way it feeds my soul.
Sometimes, I wrestle with worries during my walks. I stride quickly along my familiar route, head down, absorbed in thought. I have imaginary conversations with people I’d like to confront. I write columns in my head. Ideas for articles take root and grow.
Lately, however, the sharp-edged brilliance of fall colors have pulled me from my reverie.
As I write this, clouds and cold are moving across the Inland Northwest, and soon the snow will fall. This knowledge makes me treasure golden October afternoons all the more.
This past week, as I strode through leaf-lined streets, I paid attention to the artistry around me. I took a mental inventory of the things I so easily overlook. Before I knew it, my afternoon walk had become an exercise in gratitude.
I’m thankful for my nearsighted eyes that still allow me to drink in the searing scarlet and gorgeous gold of turning leaves. The breathtaking blue sky will soon gray – fluffy white cumulus clouds evaporating as dreary nimbus clouds arrive, and I will watch it happen.
Taking deep breaths, I filled my lungs with crisp autumn air, aware that for millions of people with asthma or emphysema, each breath can be a struggle.
I left my MP3 player at home and listened instead to the whispery skittering of leaves across the pavement. The throaty barking of my neighbor’s dog and the shriek of elementary school kids at recess blended together, creating a background noise that ebbed and faded as I walked.
A twinge in my Achilles’ tendon at the two-mile mark reminded me of the old injury I’d aggravated this summer, causing me to take an extended break from my exercise routine. As my feet hit the pavement I felt profound gratitude for the ability to walk – for the muscles that propel me forward and complain afterward.
How many times have I taken for granted the wholeness of my body – my freedom of movement and flexibility?
And speaking of flexibility, how lucky am I to have a job that allows me to push myself away from my desk and lace up my walking shoes? I don’t have to try to cram exercise in after work or wake up extra early to walk before the kids leave for school.
When I arrived home, the cats ran to greet me, sniffing the scent of wood smoke, dogs and the great outdoors. I poured myself a glass of water and gulped it down, and even that act became significant. People across the world must walk for miles to wells to carry drinking water back to their homes.
I stood at my living room window. The wind gusted, sending forth a flurry of leaves from the tree in our front yard. My muscles tingled, my Achilles throbbed, and yet I felt exhilarated.
No wonder so many fitness experts agree that walking is the best form of exercise. My walk had given my body a great workout, but also stretched my soul and expanded my mind.
Someday, age or infirmity may slow my footsteps and prohibit autumn walks. So, I hope to store a thousand picture perfect October days like this one in my memory.
November is coming, but I’ve got a head start on Thanksgiving.