I feel incredibly fortunate to have half a mile of driveway that snakes through the woods toward where our mailbox sits just off a country road here in middle Tennessee. The long driveway serves as my private walking path that is completely surrounded by steep hills, trees, and a creek on one side. For at least six days a week, I go on an hour-long walk by myself.
I have reaped a few benefits from these solitary sojourns.
- I get quiet time by myself.
Being a true introvert at heart, I often crave alone time. My walks happen early in the morning these days, and no other humans are hankering for my attention. This energizes me in ways that most anything else cannot.
- I enjoy silence.
Being out in the woods, long stretches of silence are accented by birds singing or wind brushing through the trees. Those are comforting sounds, but mostly, there is the silence. Gone is the stalwart tone of a reporter on NPR delivering more bad news on my car radio. There is no music and no ebb and flow of a movie’s dialogue going on in another room. There is immense richness in silence.
- I feel more calm inside my head.
Perhaps because we live in an age of digital sensory overload, my mind can travel far too fast among numerous thoughts, distractions, reactions, and emotions. My. mind slows down when I walk alone. This deceleration is an entryway into a calming space. All that happens in my walk is me taking one step in front of the other. I breathe. I blink my eyes. I see the path ahead. I simply exist in the moment.
- I get exercise.
This is easily one of the best benefits I derive from walking. I get to move my body instead of being inert and sedentary. My blood flows more freely along with the limbs of my body. What’s more, walking is also a low-impact form of exercise, and as such, my bones and joints do not get stressed unnecessarily. Walking leads my body toward a healthier state of being.
- I feed my creativity.
There have been countless times when I have either come up with new ideas for projects or found solutions to problems in my long solitary walks. The combination of walking without distraction in a calm and free manner is conducive to creative ideation and problem-solving. I will not pretend to know the science behind this. I can only tell from experience that these walks have lead me toward tremendous breakthroughs in my creative work. Go figure.
There are, of course, some things I do to maximize the experience and enjoyment of my walks.
- Drink plenty of water and fluids.
It is important to stay hydrated when walking (particularly in hot weather). I usually bring a thermos full of water or my morning coffee to sip on along the way.
- Listen to nothing.
For a while, I tried listening to podcasts as I walked, but I found that I enjoyed letting my mind wander freely instead. The voices and demands of other humans should exist in other parts of your life. A walk by yourself is yours alone.
- If you need to listen to music, choose calming and enjoyable varieties.
If there is music out there that makes you feel good and relaxed, choose that. It will be the soundtrack to your journey. Choose wisely.
- Wear comfortable clothing.
If you are the type who sweats a lot, a light t-shirt and shorts might be perfect. I like using fabric that feels smooth and cool on my skin. Whatever your preference, give yourself permission to be comfortable.
- Wear appropriate shoes.
I strongly recommend wearing sneakers made for walking, running, and hiking. Take the time to find shoes that are comfortable and that will absorb the shocks of movement in your feet and legs.
It is important to acknowledge, dear reader, that not everyone lives in an area in the woods that facilitates a blissful meandering walk. Wherever you live, whether you have sidewalks that wind around your neighborhood or a greenway in your city, it is worthwhile to find places where you can walk safely by yourself. It is the simplest activity that any able-bodied person can do independently, and it reaps numerous benefits.
It matters less how often you go for a walk and matters more that you at least do it with some regularity. Every other day, three days a week, or every night after dinner—see if you can do it consistently and in a way that fits comfortably within your normal routines. Walk for twenty minutes, an hour, or however long is easiest for you. Generally, I say the more and longer the better, but we all have different needs and schedules that we must accommodate. Simply do it joyfully whenever and wherever you are able.
Walking is the simplest, low-stress gift you can give to yourself, and it gives back tremendous value.