“Hey, good morning!” says my neighbor as we get near enough to recognize each other on the dark sidewalk. His wagging, grinning Setters strain towards me on their leashes. “Great weather for a change, eh? People are just gophering up all over the place!”
He’s right. In November and December. the bully weather gods were particularly cruel, slapping our faces with numbing temperatures, excruciating winds, and driving snow. They tripped us with freezing drizzle that slicked the streets and sidewalks. But they became suspiciously kind this month. For the first day in weeks, I’ve popped my head out from the sullen, overheated buses and the echoing rapid transit tunnels to resume my morning walk to work.
Even though at this time of the year, my route is illuminated only by streetlamps and vehicle headlights, these 40 minutes are brightly lit. Before my day is two hours old, I’ve already enjoyed a workout, and, according to physiotherapist Lauren Jenkins, I’m doing my body an immense favor. “Walking has the ability to improve our cardiovascular and respiratory function. It can reduce heart rate, blood pressure, and health risks such as high triglycerides, increased clotting, and high body fat. Not only that, it can lower our overall risk for chronic conditions such as stroke, heart attack, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.” Wow – that’s an impressive list. Jenkins also says that although balance can decline as we age, regular walking helps reduce the risk of falls and enhances our independence. Amen to that, sister.
I’ve also noticed that as I walk, my brain throws off the covers and comes alive. I plan home renovations and vacation destinations. Blog post ideas leap up, and I play chess games of best words, best order with their content. This relationship between walking and thinking wouldn’t surprise John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist whose book and website Brain Rules tell us that “Exercise boosts brain power.” Why?
“Our ancestors… walked an average of 12 miles a day…. Our brains developed as a survival organ that was designed to solve problems in an unstable environment, in almost constant motion.” Medina says that physical activity can boost our concentration and impulse control, our foresight, and our problem solving ability, As a result, we can be more creative and, of course, healthier.
But I don’t spend my entire walk solving problems. I’m also mindful of being, well, mindful. Too often, we don’t pause to notice and appreciate small instances of beauty, to savor ourselves and our surroundings. Walking gives me the chance to enjoy the cool air on my cheeks, and the scrunch of my boot cleats echoing up the recesses of the apartment high rises. I’ve stopped to snap pictures of the ice freckled river. One morning, I looked down from the bridge I cross on the last leg of my journey and saw “I LOVE YOU, JASON” written in the snow below. I hoped that the message’s recipient would be mindful of this grand romantic gesture and respond with one of his own.
Best of all, when I walk, I become part of a community of other early risers with things to do and places to go and feet to take them there. Every day, I pass a solitary woman with her toque pulled down and her hood pulled up. She has progressed from staring at me without expression to gifting me with a hesitant smile. University students toting backpacks head south, while young men wearing skinny trousers and messenger bags hustle north to their government jobs. I can count on a cheerful greeting from a grizzled beard man on the bridge, who sets up his tripod and camera every day to photograph the sunrise. Once, when my mood was as dark as the morning, I said to him, “You’ll wait a long time today to see the dawn.” He smiled and pointed to a smudge of light on the honizon. I thanked him for helping me to notice. When he wished me a good day, I realized he’d just increased the chances that I’d have one.