For more information on Melissa Walker's coaching business, check out: https://www.heydaycoaching.com/
When I was in college, one of the staffers in the registrar’s office used to greet me with “Here Melissa Walker walks.”
I guess I was aptly named because I’ve always been a walker. As a kid, I liked to walk the perimeter of our small farm. I sometimes strolled in a light rain. I still do. I didn’t have a car in college, so I walked everywhere—to class, to stores, to appointments. When I travel, I love to walk the trails and roads and streets of the place I’m visiting because it seems the best way to really see a place.
Today, I’ve embarked on my third career as a life and career coach, and in the past three months, I’ve been helping clients find ways to cope with the anxiety generated by our uncertain future. I recommend a lot of strategies: deep breathing, turning off the news, keeping a routine, reading poetry. I do all of these things, but for me, the best strategy has simply been to walk.
The other day on a podcast, I heard the Latin expression “solvitur ambulando” which roughly translates to “It is solved by walking.” That seems right. Long walks have provided solace throughout many of the hardest moments of my life, and the act of walking has sparked creative moments. When I’m walking, I often free associate and make mental connections that help me solve problems. For example, when I’m stuck on a piece of writing, taking a walk often yields the turn of phrase or transition I’ve been struggling to find.
Over and over in this pandemic, walking has sustained me. I’ve walked in my neighborhood. My husband and I have walked the Cottonwood Trail and paths at Camp Croft, Duncan Park, and Lake Whelchel. As I walk, my agitated mind gradually slows. The act of putting one foot in front of the other is something like meditation—a focused repetitive action that calms my sympathetic nervous system.
There’s lots of scientific evidence that proves walking is good for you. Regular walks are associated with increased cardiovascular and pulmonary fitness, and reduced risk of heart attacks and strokes. One study in Japan found that a 40-minute walk lowers blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
I spend most of my life in my head, and for me, walks help reconnect my mind and my body. In her book Wanderlust: A History of Walking, Rebecca Solnit says,
“Walking, ideally, is a state in which the mind, the body, and the world are aligned, as though they were three characters finally in conversation together, three notes suddenly making a chord. Walking allows us to be in our bodies and in the world without being made busy by them. It leaves us free to think without being wholly lost in our thoughts.”
Henry David Thoreau put it more succinctly in his essay “Walking,” when he said, “In my walks I would fain return to my senses.”
For most of us, the pre-pandemic world was insanely busy. Now, many of us are free to be in the world without being made busy by it. Neighbors who once went from one commitment to the next are now sticking closer to home and taking to the sidewalks to walk and socialize at a safe distance. Every few days, I walk to visit the goats who are clearing the ravine in Converse Heights, and I bump into neighbors who are finding joy in the same, ordinary, low-tech activity.
The neighborhood is quieter, though it feels more populated. Fewer cars pass on the streets. Before the pandemic, I rarely saw children playing outside—they were as overscheduled as the rest of us. Now when I walk, I see them on swing sets in their yards, and I dodge them as they career down the street on scooters and bicycles, and skirt around them as they create art with sidewalk chalk. The other day, I passed a house where I heard a mom reading a chapter book aloud to three children on their front porch. On my walks, I’m enjoying a calmer, saner world than the one I saw pre-pandemic, or the one I read about in the news.
In spite of our anxieties, my neighbors and friends have slowed down and found joy in simpler things. As we re-emerge from our sheltering, my hope for myself and my community is that we hold on to some elements of this slower, saner pace of living. I hope that we’ll all take more walks. I can’t help but think we can repair our broken world a little bit by spending more time on foot.
Melissa Walker is a life and career coach. When's she's not walking or coaching, she is reading and occasionally writing.