Walking Back to Happiness

“The sum of the whole is this: walk and be happy; walk and be healthy. The best way to lengthen out our days is to walk steadily and with a purpose.” -Charles Dickens

During a huge life change, which was causing stress, which was in turn causing insomnia, which was in turn causing depression, I confessed to my doctor that I was getting desperate and was willing to try anything to get some sleep. My doctor very pragmatically, somewhat drily, recommended that I start taking a 45 minute walk every day. So easy-peasy I thought he must be pulling my leg. But he insisted that a brisk and, in his words, “mindful” walk would reset my brain. He didn’t get into all the sciencey business about increasing the brain’s production of endorphins and its analgesic effect on pain or that odd sense of well-being in the mind serotonin can provoke. He just said “Walk. And pay attention while you’re walking.”

Boy, was that sound advice. I’ve noticed since, that while every walk is a little different, when I walk at work a three stage pattern has emerged. First, my brain natters on nervously about a million small things: emails I need to answer, scheduling changes, follow-up conversations I need to have, the prioritization of every task before me, my calendar.  Next, I shift into longer thoughts and untangle larger problems.  I’m able to have what sounds more and more like a productive conversation with myself. I feel a little more confident and much less worried. And finally, and this is why I walk on my lunch hour, I stop fretting about work all together, my head clears and I return, dare I say it, happier.

As it turns out, a happy brain is a creative and productive thing. There is so much out there on positive psychology and the effects it has on a company’s success that I was overwhelmed when I started looking into it. Happy people collaborate better, stay calmer in a crisis, are more creative, more motivated, less inclined to make errors that are the end result of worrying about making errors.  And the end results are quantifiable not just anecdotal. In an article for the Harvard Business Review blog, Shawn Anchor cited a 2008 study by Gallup Healthways that shows that employees who score low in “life satisfaction,” stay home an average of 1.25 more days a month than those employees who score high. That’s 15 days of lost productivity! Other research at gallup indicates retail companies with a high “employee life satisfaction” are able to increase revenue by up to $21 PER SQUARE FEET. This is all important bottom line stuff for managers and leaders to address. But the most relevant bottom line for the individual is that we do better when we feel better. And we feel better when we get out and walk.

Anchor, S. “Positive Intelligence.” Retrieved from http://hbr.org/2012/01/positive-intelligence/ar/1

(by guest blogger/newsletterist Allisa Cherry)

Humans are born to stroll

“If people want to be healthier and prolong their life span, all they really need to do is go for a walk. It’s the single easiest thing anyone can do.”

- Gretchen Reynolds, Author of The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can: Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer

“Two-thirds of Americans get no exercise at all. If one of those people gets up and moves around for 20 minutes, they are going to get a huge number of health benefits, and everything beyond that 20 minutes is, to some degree, gravy.”

While weight-loss is certainly an important aspect of an exercise program, she stresses that it should by far not be the only consideration:

“If someone starts an exercise program and improves his fitness, even if he doesn’t lose an ounce, he will generally have a longer life and a much healthier life. It would be nice if people would look at exercise as a way to make themselves feel better and live longer and not necessarily as a way to make themselves skinnier.”

Regarding being sedentary (ie: an office job) , she has this to say:

“I really do stand up at least every 20 minutes now, because I was spending five or six hours unmoving in my chair. The science is really clear that that is very unhealthy, and that it promotes all sorts of disease. All you have to do to ameliorate that is to stand up. You don’t even have to move. I’m standing up right now as I talk on the phone. I stand during most of my interviews now.”


Read the rest of the interview at the ever-great ‘Well’ blog at the NYT:



Invite walked-across-the-U.S. Matt Green to come speak

I just received an email from Matt Green, who just recently finished a 157 day walk across America.

He has given a few talks on his experience and says he’s been getting great feedback. I think it’s a tremendous thing he’s done, and I would imagine the kind of things you could bring back from a walk of that length would be very much worth hearing. His talk is largely based around his experiences on that trip. A couple of lessons he felt were most vital are:

  1. The world is a far kinder and less scary place than we’re told, and
  2. There is so much beauty around us, often right in front of our eyes, that we take for granted.
I’ve got a few talks lined up for 2011, but I’d love to add more, so if you know of a group that might be interested in having me do a presentation (anywhere between 20 and 90 minutes), please let me know.

Sounds like something I’d love to hear. Drop Matt a line. His site is: http://imjustwalkin.com/

Matt Green walked across America in 152 days

Matt Green - imjustwalkin.com

I just happened to be driving back from the Oregon Coast on Highway 6, out of Tillamook, and saw Matt Green on the side of the road pushing a cart. I had no idea it was Matt Green at the time. I admit we shared a quick chuckle in the car because it appeared to be someone who had quite possibly chosen the worst possible place to vend something in recorded history (on the accelerating side of a hair pin turn, with a sign too small to read at our velocity). (update: Apparently the sign says ‘we may never meet again’)

I wish I’d known – he’s had an impressive adventure.

Check out imjustwalkin.com to read about his 152 day walk across N. America. From New York to Rockaway Beach, Oregon.

I especially enjoyed his ‘long version’ of why he’s doing it, which quotes from Steinbeck’s Cannery Row:

Once when Doc was at the University of Chicago he had love trouble and he had worked too hard. He thought it would be nice to take a very long walk. He put on a little knapsack and he walked through Indiana and Kentucky and North Carolina and Georgia clear to Florida. He walked among farmers and mountain people, among the swamp people and fishermen. And everywhere people asked him why he was walking through the country.

And then he goes on to say some lovely things, such as:

But perhaps the thing I find most important about walking is how connected it makes me feel to the space I’m passing through. I think it’s because walking is the way we experience our homes. We walk to the fridge, we walk to bed, we walk around the yard. We walk to the copy machine, we walk to the coffee machine, we walk around the grocery store. So this is that same familiar stride, that most basic form of locomotion we know so well, but through vast, immense, unknown places. It’s a way to live a continuous line across the country as if it were my home.