Have you tried going for a walk?

posted in: Health, How to human | 1

There’s a sort of exoticism that people expect from effective advice – it must be terribly complicated and surprising and insightful. I am increasingly convinced, however, that for most people, the biggest opportunities are in basic stuff they’re neglecting.

The neglected secret of nutrition is cooking – simple meals with simple ingredients, at a tiny price and by far the best health effects. Not magical amazonian superfood berries that cost $40 per kilo and will stop being sold in a few years when doctors find out they cause eyelid cancer. No. Lettuce.

With exercise, people terribly overcomplicate everything and dress up in lycra to do increasingly embarrassing things on assorted bits of brightly painted scrapyard equipment and farm animals, while the neglected secret is doing literally anything that makes you sweat, but doing it like you mean it. No magic bullets, just hard work.

In the long run, the best investment is a boring conservative portfolio that you start building ASAP and contribute to consistently. Compound interest does better work than a team of algorithms swapping Mesoamerican junk bonds for Moldovan equity options with a basket of Chinese cryptocurrencies as collateral.

The basic, boring stuff works – if not best, then well enough for most people, and even when you’re the type for more interesting solutions, you still have to nail the basics.

You still need a solid baseline of nutrition for any added exoticism to have any point – you can’t out-kombucha a bad diet. Same way you can’t goatyoga yourself out of never breaking a sweat, or outalgorithm yourself out of not having any savings.

As a wise writer put it in the 19th century: “We have no objection to dumb bells, and other paraphernalia of the gymnasium. But none of these contrivances are half so beneficial as the use of our natural means of locomotion.”

General principle, really.

Of all the habits that I’ve played around with, the most obviously beneficial across multiple domains and the most consistently neglected is: going for a walk.

The Victorians were onto something when they called it a constitutional [walk]. It really restores your constitution.

Chuck Norris didn’t get famous playing Sitter Texas Ranger.

Obviously, walking can be a group activity as well: solitary walks are great, and so are walks with friends or romantic partners.

I have a nice restaurant a 20 minute walk along the river, for example. Great weekend tradition. Work up an appetite, chomp down a boar burger, walk it off.

First, the obvious benefits are physical. While it’s not strenuous exercise by any measure, it’s the exact couple hundred nearly effortless calories per week (or better, day!) that most people need to slim down.

Apart from the circumference management, it gets your blood pumping and keeps your heart and circulatory system – you know, the piping – in shape – which is especially useful considering it’s a very age-forgiving activity.

Pick the habit up young, and keep it up your whole life – on top of the cardiovascular health, there’s solid evidence it even helps ward off dementia.

When you’re young, just walk faster.

It also gets your lymphatic system moving, so it helps your body get rid of the unsavoury stuff that would otherwise clog you up and damage tissues and generally be a heinous nuisance. “Detox”, when attached as advertising to a product, is complete bullshit, but your body actually has a system for getting rid of actual toxins and metabolic junk and miniaturised submarines with a team of 1960s British doctors in them, and it’s called the lymphatic system. Moving around helps it do its job.

But the benefits don’t end with the body.

Walking also does great things for your mind.

The brain gets nourishment and oxygen, and chirps to life like a border collie with a squeaky toy.

In a funk? Go for a half hour walk. You’ll thank me.

You can expect greater mental clarity, improved mood, a kind of meditative state leading to surprising bursts of creativity – well, surprising if you’re not expecting them, and taking the walk precisely because of them.

It’s like a legal drug.

I would recommend taking a small notebook and pen with you, but that’s just a peculiarity of mine. Maybe you’ll prefer a more introspective experience.

Killer combo is walking with headphones playing Brain.fm (no affiliation, just a satisfied customer).

Perhaps counterintuitively for people not accustomed to exercise, expending moderate amounts of energy actually gives you an energy boost.

If you get home from work half-ready to dissolve into a puddle of primordial goo on the couch, go for a brisk walk instead, and you will come back filled with energy.

Use the energy in whatever way you see fit.

And sleep like a baby, because it helps that too.

Oh and it’s completely free. Very democratic.

Amazingly, people used to do this all the time. I’d like to reintroduce the habit. It feels almost like a cheat code when you do pick it up.

As put forward in a newspaper article 160 years ago, titled “Walking as an exercise”, and wedged between “A calendar for February” and “An excellent crop of onions”:

“If persisted in, a remarkable change will result – a notable clearness of mental power, keenness of appetite and a zest for life’s work.”

You can take the first step today.

Inspired to saunter about like a good Victorian? Gratitude is best expressed in pecuniary terms, my good gentlenoun!