I have been involved in a number of sports activities in my life and, in particular, three different forms of martial arts, and extreme weight lifting. I have also suffered a number of injuries as a result of these sports, most particularly in my knees and ankles. These injuries have forced me to give up these activities. Since my injured joints don’t allow for activities that involve much impact, walking has become my favourite activity. Swimming is an option as well, which I have done in the past, but it’s very time consuming, particularly with hair that can’t handle blow drying (think Poodles).
I gave up car ownership 10 years ago this month. I could no longer justify owning a car, considering that I was taking the bus to work (parking is a huge hassle on campus), and using my car only on the weekends. Owning a car made no financial sense, not to mention the guilt I felt about all the carbon emissions. Once the lease was up on my car, I made a clean break and bought a bus pass. Now that my employer participates in a discounted monthly bus pass, my fixed transportation cost per month amounts to about $55.
The freedom of not having a car – for this is how I see it – allows me to spend more time walking. At first I walked only for occasional exercise, but I now incorporate walking as part of my desire to go from point A to B. I try to walk a minimum of 8 km a day, seven days a week; I average about 95 minutes of active walking a day. Rather than do the 95 minutes at one stretch, I normally divide the walking into sections. On a typical weekday, I take the downtown bus to work, but get off at the terminal, then walk about 25 minutes to the office. I walk for another 50 minutes or so at lunchtime, then after work, I walk part way home (about 45 minutes or more), then catch the bus to finish the journey. The routine changes over the weekend, where I walk to and from my errands, such as the library, farmers’ market, local coffee shop, and so forth. Weather is, of course, a factor to be considered. Halifax gets quite a lot of rain (normally heavy) and wind, and winters can be gruelling. I don’t mind walking in the cold, but it’s the sidewalks covered with thick ice and snow that can cause problems.
Discipline is the key factor, as with all forms of exercise. It’s easy to make excuses, saying that it’s too windy or cold to walk; before you know it, those excuses turn into days of not walking, which can turn into weeks. For me, the most important aspect of walking is the mental break it gives me. When I walk, I don’t listen to music, and I avoid using my smartphone. I do carry my phone in case of emergencies, and I’ve used it on more than one occasion to report sightings of missing cats, but I will not use it for any other purposes. Walking is a time for me to simply let my mind wander. I am an urban walker, so I enjoy looking at houses, front yards, and so forth. Music simply adds to the busyness of life that we all seem so eager to embrace; in fact, I think busyness has become a competitive sport. We all seem so afraid to simply be, as though we fear being judged for being unproductive. I relish the opportunity to take time for myself to just be, and walking appeals to my reserved and introverted nature because I don’t need to talk to anyone, except to every dog and cat I may encounter.
A book that reflects well my attitude to walking is Frédéric Gros’ book A philosophy of walking, which discusses the role of walking as part of the thinking process, and charts the impact walking has made on philosophers such as Rimbaud, Rousseau, Narvel, Thoreau, and Nietzsche. I don’t count myself in such heady company, of course, but I can fully appreciate the role active walking has in my intellectual and psychological well-being.