Enough already with the gym you never visit. Go take a walk.
Americans don’t get enough exercise because Americans insist on “exercising,” according to a recent finding that I just made up. Bear with me for a couple of sentences and I think I’ll be able to make some sense, and then I’m going to tell you why you should put down your electronic device and head out the front door.
When you were a kid, how much time did you spend exercising in whatever manner that you currently define “exercise”? How much time did you spend playing? My childhood was spent roaming around the neighborhood, looking for something to do: a football game in somebody’s front yard, a wheelie contest with Ricky Brent, a game of kick the can in the woods. Exercise was a byproduct of living, not a task.
But adults don’t play. We work and raise children and schedule colonoscopies, so we feel an obligation to exercise. It’s another thing on the to-do list. Many of us have quarantined “exercise” in a little building named a “gym” that we pay to attend but never do so. Cut it out already: Go play in your neighborhood.
Here’s what I want you to do: Put on some normal clothes and comfortable shoes, check your electronics at the door, and go take a walk. Do not walk with the intention of exercising. Do not measure your distance, your heart rate, or your pace. Just take a walk.
Your biggest challenge is going to be your desire to turn that walk into something productive. I get that. We live in a busy, multitasking culture, so here are some suggestions for your time roaming the neighborhood:
Pick up some trash. Once you’re out there at ground level with your eyes not focused on an electronic device, you’ll be amazed at how much random crud is drifting around your neighborhood. You don’t have to pick it all up, just a thing or two. You’ll feel like you’ve done your good deed for the day, and you have.
Wave. Do you know your neighbors? I don’t, not in any real way at least. But when I’m out walking around I wave to whomever I pass, and I always feel better afterward.
Talk to a cat. Cats always eyeball pedestrians as if we’re up to no good. Be a kid and ask the kitty a couple of quick questions. Note: If the cat answers, cut your walk short and seek medical attention.
Notice the cars. Cool cars are kind of like mushrooms: you don’t see them until you start looking, and then they are everywhere. In my neighborhood I’ve spotted a right-hand drive XKE, a Delorean, and countless muscle cars hiding in garages, where they await restoration. There was even an old Rolls-Royce lurking in a neighbor’s garage for a while.
Listen. Without your workout mix blasting through your earbuds you’ll hear how alive your neighborhood is: kids are playing, birds are chirping, somebody is running a table saw in the distance. Airplanes putter around overhead, Harleys rumble past a mile away—it’s remarkable how noisy a quiet neighborhood can be.
Spot wildlife. Every walk outside is a mini-safari. I’ve spotted coyotes, deer, skunks, opossums, racoons, owls, hawks, magpies, snakes, squirrels, rats, turkeys, quail, pheasant, and lizards. I’ve even watched a house cat stalk a turkey. How cool is that?
Read the signs. Do you realize how many signs are hanging around your neighborhood? Lost dogs and cats, yard sales, junk for sale, yard signs for political candidates. One of these days I’m going to post “lost goldfish” signs all over my neighborhood.
See the trees, not the forest. Urban and suburban canopies blend into a pleasant blur of green, but when you’re out there at street level you can admire the variety of trees that make up a neighborhood. It’s really quite impressive.
Just be. Think of your walk as sort of a moving meditation. Pay attention to how your body feels as it propels itself. Notice how your mind scrambles to stay busy.
Write. Ideas tend to pop up in a quiet void. Maybe you’ll catch a poem, or a melody. Maybe you’ll hit on the plot for that teenage paranormal romance you’ve been meaning to write. Hopefully you’ll come up with a great idea for a Good Men Project piece, and when you get home you’ll type it up and send it to us.
Before you know it an hour will have passed, and when you do the math on that you’ll estimate that you walked around three miles. All you did was puttered around your neighborhood like you did when you were a kid, but you had fun and you got in that hour that you didn’t get in when you were avoiding the gym.
And on that note, I have to get back out there. Ricky Brent thinks today’s the day to beat me in a wheelie contest.
photo courtesy of the author