The first time I realized the value of walking and being in the company of nature occurred when I was very young.
My grandparents lived in a 100-year-old historic home. During different seasons, it was surrounded by a variety of flowers — daisies, tulips, roses, mums, violets, pansies and irises — and many trees, shrubs and other lush vegetation.
Stepping stones took me exploring along dirt and gravel paths, and the winding trails all around their house in colors of fall seemed like fantasy fit for someone with such curiosity.
There were secret areas where I could sneak off and dream. In the summer, I would sip from a water fountain, its soothing sound and cool breath to my face so refreshing.
The growth of a group of trees made an arch with their branches, and I was delighted to pass under and through. The grounds and house were large, but not so much so that I would get lost.
Today due to our fast-paced world, I can understand the desire that many people have for getting “lost,” to drop their responsibilities if only for 30 minutes to an hour, and simply walk.
According to fitness experts, walking is one of the most beneficial exercises for those who are able to enjoy this activity. In addition, walking can play a significant role in lessening anxiety. Some people refer to this as “strolling their way to calm.”
Harvard researchers found that even a short walk can clear the mind and reduce stress hormones. Walking, indeed, is powerful medicine. In a recent article published by “Prevention Guide,” the authors pointed out, “No wonder Greek physician Hippocrates deemed walking to be ‘man’s best medicine.’ Walking enriches and balances your life, and it just plain makes you feel good.”
Fitness experts often advise that it’s the distance which truly matters in walking and not so much the speed. I never imagined myself walking more than four or five miles. But several years ago, I did challenge myself.
On a whim, I decided to walk to Arkansas City and back just to see if I could do it. There I was on the side of the highway as I walked the 11 miles to Arkansas City and back home to Winfield. I accomplished this amazing feat (for me, anyway) once in winter and twice during the summer.
Dodging ice and mud along the way when temperatures were 30 degrees was frustrating, but I managed. My journey during summer became quite humid, but I proceeded onward. I felt like a monk on a mission.
Looking back, I should have been more astute about the possible dangers of walking along such a route when cars, trucks and semis rushed past me. I was fortunate to not have been hit or run over by a distracted driver behind the wheel. If I were hit and lying in a ditch or over in a wheat field, my last thought would have been realizing I’d never get a chance to appear on “Wheel of Fortune.” What a terrible fate that would have been.
Before starting to walk, it is important for many people to warm up. They can spend five to 10 minutes on two simple movements to prepare their body for walking and helping prevent injury: 1. Walk at a slow, comfortable pace as if window shopping; and 2. Do some active stretching, which could be side lunges, walking lunges or even skipping.
It’s true that some people obtain more pleasure from jogging or running. However, walking is less harsh on the knees and other joints. Even if you want to start running, you first must do a lot of walking. So why not just walk? Find your own pace, watch your form and vary your walking surface. Along the way, seek inspiration. If you walk outdoors, observe your environment.
Nature is all around us when we walk in the park, along a trail, in the country or just outside the city limits.
Cherry Street Park in Winfield, or any local park, is a good start. Timber Creek nature trail in Winfield is a great experience. You can start at Island Park and wind your way to First Street, or do the opposite. During my walk there, I take note of the textures of the paths, the difference in the shape and color of leaves, insects I might come across, or I listen to chirping birds if none are spotted.
When I was in my 20s and working in Junction City, I participated in a Volksmarch. The event was for charity. It took place at a beautiful girl scout camp where there were hills, valleys, creeks and, yes, several rocky areas. I chose to walk the 7K event, which was about 4.2 miles. Naturally, I had been in better shape then. (I’m an old lady now.) I could have entered the 10K or 6.2-mile event, or walked even farther, but I didn’t want to press my luck.
I remember asking a guy from Fort Riley if he would walk with me.
“Sure!,” he exclaimed so merrily, then added, “If you can keep up.”
Oh, that soldier really moved fast! I suspected he was teasing (or taunting) me, just to test me. But I did keep up.
People need to bear in mind, though, that walking doesn’t have to be a race. Granted, some people are more competitive than others. But no one should feel as if they must challenge anyone else, unless they are challenging themselves on a solo walk.
In my opinion, however, the best time to enjoy being on a nature trail is on horseback. I used to do this at camp and when older during my college years. Today people can ride horses in all these fancy places. Guides direct you through glorious plains, landscapes that seem more like elegantly-designed golf courses, flowing streams and wooded areas.
I’ll never forget an incident that happened when I was about 10. My family and I went on horseback along trails in Wyoming. I was riding a beauty toward the end of the line with a guide. The other guide had been riding up front. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a grizzly charged at our group.
One of the guides yelled and shouted, and rode his horse toward the bear. It wasn’t long, though it seemed like slow-motion, until the scared bear romped away.
I moved my horse closer to the middle of the group. Had that been a mama bear with a cub or two cubs, the situation could have been much worse. Mama bears are quite protective of their young.
It was a thrilling ride, nevertheless.
But getting back to walking — I prefer playing it safe. And I have found that after I develop a routine of walking fairly often, I do feel better mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Walk, don’t run. That’s what I intend to do for as long as I am able.
Carol Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.