This is the only time of the year when it is a pleasure to take a walk in the park. The worst of the winter is over (in those parts that do, in fact, have a winter) and the searing heat of the summer lies in the hazy distance. There is a cool breeze wafting, the sun radiates its mild benevolence on all, the flowers bloom without the slightest sense of modesty and the smell of roasting peanuts comes rolling in from around the corner.
How can you not enjoy a walk through the park when the whole universe is conspiring to please you at every turn?
Well, as you may have guessed by now, I can and I do enjoy it tremendously. I try and keep my afternoons free so that I can ramble through Lodhi Garden, taking care to stay away from the jogging track with its aggressive, Lycra-clad bullies who take particular pleasure in shoving slower souls like me off the path. Instead, I veer off on to the smaller pathways, some of them enclosed by bamboo trees, some bound by flowering beds, and yet others bordered by a quietly sparkling lake, where ducks and geese majestically paddle away, scarcely disturbing the calm surface of the water.
I turn my phone on silent and slip it into my pocket. For the next hour or so, I don’t want to hear from anyone. I don’t need music blaring through my earphones. I don’t care for the distraction of my Twitter timeline or my Facebook feed. I don’t want to take pictures that I can later post on Instagram.
This is my quiet time. A time when I need to hear myself think. And I find that I never think quite so clearly as when I am taking a walk.
This is the time when I work out the kinks in the plot of the novel I am halfway through writing. This is when I think of the topic of my next column. This is when I plan the menu if I am having people over for dinner. This is when I think of the cutting responses I should have used in the argument I had with a friend last night (I know, I know, it’s too late, but even so...).
But most of all, I use this time to simply let my mind wander where it will. If it chooses to go back and examine a childhood memory, I follow it right there. If it wants to puzzle over why dog owners never pick up after their pooches, I allow it to do so. If it feels like ruminating over the book I’ve just finished reading, I let it. If it wants to examine the meaning of life, then I indulge it.
And I can tell that my mind really needs this because at the end of my perambulation, I find myself feeling much lighter, more energised and far less stressed than I was before I began my walk. And it’s not just the physical exercise that makes me feel better about myself, it is also the mental stimulation.
It now turns out that I am far from being the only one who feels this way. A recent article in The New York Times detailed a University of Birmingham study that examined if people did feel better after a walk. The subjects were divided into two groups, one of whom walked for half an hour in their lunch break (they could pace themselves as they saw fit; going as slow or fast as they liked) while the other didn’t. Those who did walk were asked to rate their state of mind afterwards on a specially designed app. At the end of 10 weeks, the first group had significantly higher rates of mental and physical satisfaction than the group that didn’t walk. They felt better about themselves, were less stressed, felt more equipped to deal with problems and were far less overwhelmed by life.
After 10 weeks, the second group – which had, until then, served as the control group – was asked to walk during their lunch break as well. And – you guessed right! – they started feeling better about themselves as well after taking a half-hour lunchtime stroll. They felt refreshed, rejuvenated and ready to take on the world (I paraphrase, of course, but that was the gist of it).
Frankly, I am not surprised. My own experience has told me over the years that going for a walk leads to a sense of well-being that has nothing to do with aerobic exercise itself. A walk is much more than that.
For me, it is a period of quiet reflection, a time to switch off and spend time with myself. For others, who treat it as a communal activity, it may be a time to bond with friends, exchange gossip, or just a laugh or two. And then, there are those who treat it as an opportunity to listen to the latest music or even listen to an audio book, something that they don’t otherwise have time for in their fractious lives.
But whatever the motivation, there is no denying that taking a stroll, no matter how gentle, is good for your general well-being. So, what are you waiting for? Go on. Take a walk. You can always thank me later.
From HT Brunch, January 22, 2017
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