I have 30 years of fantastic memories with my friend Meredith – borrowing her yellow marker in kindergarten, raiding the walk-in refrigerator at summer camp in search of day-old French toast sticks, drinking more bloody marys in an 8-hour span than the normal American should consume all year – but one of my favorites was the day she took me on an “urban hike” across San Francisco.
If I remember correctly – and I may not; my Bay Area visits were usually full of those previously mentioned bloody marys – we started near Land’s End Trail and “urban hiked” along the South Bay, through the Presidio, past the Golden Gate Bridge and back to her then neighborhood of Nob Hill. I remember it so clearly because 1. It was gorgeous, 2. I was with my best friend and 3. I thought the phrase “urban hiking” was so silly.
We weren’t urban hiking folks. We were walking.
I don’t know why, but “walking” as exercise often feels like some kind of shameful disclosure for runners. “Did you go for a run today?” “No, just a walk.” “I’m so sorry. I hope everything’s ok.” Walking’s what you do when you’re injured, when you’re recovering, when you’re cooling down after a marathon. Walking is for strolling about town or for exploring the beach barefoot or for calmly getting to your closest exit when there’s a fire inside your movie theater, not for working up a sweat or cardiovascular health.
At least, that’s what I used to think. I was wrong.
During the hell year that is 2020, I’ve had to revisit my running for a lot of reasons – knee injuries, hip pain, scorching heat and humidity, and – oh yeah – my body healing itself after a 9+ pound baby was ripped from my insides. Although I successfully got back up to an arbitrarily acceptable distance earlier this spring, a series of setbacks have required me to put my running back on hold. At first, I did nothing in its place – if I can’t run, I can’t exercise, I thought.
But after far too many idle weeks, I finally laced up again at the start of the month and started doing the previously unthinkable; I went for a walk. Not with the dog, not with the baby, but all alone, wearing my running clothes, in an effort to stay active. And I feel great.
Now I’m not the only runner giving walking another glance during the pandemic. My favorite weekly running newsletter ran a column in July about the case of walking, and it made some great points: not only is walking good for your heart, it’s also good for your brain.
“There’s quite a body of data in psychology suggesting that for creative problem solving, time focused away from the problem helps solve it. When you’re walking really fast or running, you’re not able to think about anything other than: Am I going to fall, or can I put my foot there, or can I jump around that dog? Just taking those sets of thoughts outside of your head for a period of time is a really good way to problem-solve.”
These walks I’m taking aren’t particularly long (20 mins here, 30 mins there), but it turns out I feel so much better afterwards – more alert all day, more comfortable sitting in front of a laptop for 10 hours straight, better able to fall asleep at night. I’m not hitting 10,000 steps – nowhere near it, really – but I’m hitting 3,000 steps, and that’s 3,000 more than I was a month ago. So you heard it from this runner first: walking deserves a spot in our exercise arsenals.