The joys and benefits to me of a solitary walk

An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day. -Henry David Thoreau

I’ve written about going for a walk for pleasure on one’s own in my book Solo Success! You CAN do things on your own. There, I wrote about the health and wellbeing benefits of walking, in particular outdoors in nature, and gave practical advice to solo walkers who might need encouragement because of the fear of being visibly alone. Today I want to share the joy and benefit that I get out of going for a walk, whether out in the country or through inner city parks and riversides.

When I’m in turmoil, when I can’t think, when I’m exhausted and afraid and feeling very, very alone, I go for walks. It’s just one of those things I do. I walk and I walk and sooner or later something comes to me….. -Jim Butcher

For me, walking is often like therapy. Whether it’s for a potentially serious bout of depression (I’ve had those), an attack of vulnerability that makes me need to face fears (we all get those sometimes), or a brush with loneliness (even a solo success can feel this, if momentarily) – I put my walking shoes on. More often than not, a walk helps initially by offering a distraction, taking my focus away from me and instead forcing me to notice the world around me: the beauty and strangeness of the natural world, the comforting rhythm of the changing seasons, the calming influence of a well-loved and familiar place.

That should not come as a surprise. It is well documented that being outdoors surrounded by nature is vital to our wellbeing at every stage in life and, in particular, impacts positively on our emotional and mental health: trees and plants emit phytoncides which, when inhaled, slow down breathing and reduce anxiety; the negative ions that proliferate alongside lakes and riverbanks are natural antidepressants. And once my senses have felt the impact of the natural surroundings, my mental processes are also stimulated to react more positively to whatever issues and negative feelings have been troubling me. My mind knows where I need to go, and my legs take me there and walk me around until I feel better.

Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being …. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. -Soren Kierkegaard

In Solo Success I said,” I often find that a change of location and a breath of fresh air are good for stimulating the problem-solving part of the brain. ……I suggest that you get outside and go for a walk to mull things over.” Whether trying to solve a practical problem, looking for a an otherwise hidden solution to a moral dilemma, identifying an issue, choosing a course of action, decision making or just working out what is niggling me……. A good walk helps by making me feel more relaxed, and therefore more receptive, and able to see and think more clearly: to recognise the lightbulb when it flashes!

If you are seeking creative ideas, go out walking. Angels whisper to a man when he goes for a walk. -Raymond Inmon

Sometimes the lightbulb illumination can appear to come from nowhere, when I’m not focusing specifically on anything – but some form of creative process has apparently been going on in the background: the new improved title; a few lines of poetry that provide a perfect ending; a twist in a plot; a new project to pursue; the BIG idea!! These creative moments are, for me, the most exciting, exhilarating and invigorating moments to experience – at any time – but especially when out walking.

I don’t need to be in low spirits for even a short walk to lift my spirits higher. In fine weather, with perhaps a splash of sunshine, a walk in one of my favourite parks to see which plants are in bloom and feel the energy from the trees is always a pleasure. I can feel my serotonin levels rising like summer sap and my smile beams like a headlight. And afterwards, I feel that I behave far more productively and with more purpose throughout the day.

That is as good a reminder as any for me, that every time I go for a walk, I am reproducing the activity and circumstances, in which I become my productive and creative best. The legwork pays dividends.

Walking is the great adventure, the first meditation, a practice of heartiness and soul primary to humankind. Walking is the exact balance between spirit and humility. -Gary Snyder