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“A traveler! I love this title. A traveler is to be reverenced as such.
His profession is the best symbol of our life.
Going from ___ toward ___; it is the history of every one of us.”

Henry David Thoreau’s 200th birthday is this year. I have never quite felt comfortable with the idea of marking birthdays for people who have died, but we do it. I have written about Henry before because I find him an interesting person of contrasts.

He went against the times he lived in. He went to Harvard College and was an intellectual, but in our general image of him, he is a non-conformist. He walked away from society to live in the woods for a year. But he went back. My favorite little anecdote about Hank is that in that year at Walden Pond, he often walked back into town to get some cookies from his mother and have her do his laundry.  It is like camping in the woods, but not too far away from a convenience store.

Thoreau was an abolitionist, a serious and the solitary walker and a passionate naturalist. He modeled his life on religious convictions. He believed that each of us has a connection with divine spirit, though I suspect people generally think of him as less Religious and more spiritual. He never went to church. He never married. He never voted and he didn’t pay his taxes.

He literally talked to trees. He was an environmentalist, although that term was not used in his time. He saw a tragedy coming for future generations because of the heedlessness he saw growing around him.

There is a new biography of HDT out this month that I reserved at my library simply titled Henry David Thoreau: A Life. Will I discover new things about  Thoreau when I read it? Certainly. Will it change my own life, as I feel my first reading of Walden did? I highly doubt that. That’s not a flaw in the book, but a flaw in me. Or maybe it’s a flaw in almost all of us – our lessening ability to change as we get older.

I found out about the book listening to an episode of Radio Open Source, one of three episodes on Thoreau. Pronunciation trivia: “Thoreau” is pronounced like the word “thorough” though most people tend to emphasize the second syllable instead.

Something that I always liked about Thoreau is that he seems to have kept himself very busy. As someone who spends too much time making To Do lists and not enough time doing things on the list, I admire his work ethic.

He worked. He was alternately a handyman, carpenter, surveyor, lecturer, businessman (his family owned a pencil-manufacturing company) and a constant writer.  He spent nearly a decade trying to describe that famous one year on Walden Pond and finally published his Walden or Life in the Woods.

He was a bit of an anarchist. In 1846, he refused to pay six years of delinquent poll taxes because of his opposition to the Mexican–American War and slavery. He spent a night in jail, but was freed the next day when someone, probably his aunt, paid the tax, against his wishes. He used the experience for several lectures on tax resistance, the rights of the individual to self-government, and it eventually became an essay best known as “Civil Disobedience.”

Thoreau studied Indian spiritual philosophies and religions and they appear in his writings. He even followed a diet of rice (“It was fit that I should live on rice, mainly, who loved so well the philosophy of India” and enjoyed flute playing (a musical pastime of Krishna) and yoga.

I found a very interesting website, MappingThoreauCountry.org,  that uses historical maps to organize and interpret documentary materials related to Thoreau’s travels throughout Massachusetts. I am a fan of maps of all kinds and you can view Thoreau’s own work in cartography on the site.

Henry (whose first name was officially David, but he reversed the first and middle name after college) was also very much at home on rivers. Water worlds engaged him. He made his own boat and he paddled and sailed on nearby waterways. He looked into the water in a scientific way and a philosophical way.

Before his Walden year, he had spent A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers  paddling from Concord, Massachusetts to Concord, New Hampshire, and back, with his brother John in 1839. John died of tetanus in 1842 and Thoreau wrote the book, in part, as a tribute to his brother. He did the first draft during that year at Walden Pond along with his journaling that would become Walden

HDT also loved solitary walking. Between 1849 and 1857, Thoreau walked the length of Cape Cod four times, passing through nearly every town on what he described as “the bared and bended arm of Massachusetts.” Along the way, he recorded observations that became the basis for lectures, essays, and, eventually, a book-length travelogue that was published posthumously as Walking in 1864.

After college, came a short period of teaching first in a public school and then in the Concord Academy started by Henry and his brother. The school closed after John’s death.

In Concord, he met Ralph Waldo Emerson who took a paternal interest in Thoreau, advising the young man and introducing him to local writers and thinkers, including Nathaniel Hawthorne. His friendships with Emerson and others in the transcendentalist movement had their ups and downs, but it led to his being a popular lecturer and an anti-slavery activist.

In 1841, Thoreau moved into the Emerson house and served as the children’s tutor, editorial assistant, repairman and gardener. For a few months in 1843, he tutored the sons of William Emerson on Staten Island,  while he was looking to make contacts with literary men and journalists in New York City. That was how he found his future literary representative, Horace Greeley.

Thoreau returned to Concord and worked in his family business for most of his adult life.

In April 1844,  he and his friend Edward Hoar accidentally set a fire that ironically consumed 300 acres of Walden Woods.

His experiment in simple living began the following year on July 4, 1845. He moved to a small house he had built on land owned by Emerson around the shores of Walden Pond. The house was in “a pretty pasture and woodlot” of 14 acres. It was 1.5 miles from his family home.

He left Walden Pond on September 6, 1847 – 2 years, 2 weeks and 2 days after loving there – and returned to the Emerson house.

In Walden, he wrote “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Thoreau moved out of Emerson’s house in 1848 and stayed at a house on nearby Belknap Street. In 1850, he and his family moved into a house at 255 Main Street, where he lived until his death.

When his aunt Louisa asked him in the last weeks of his life if he had made his peace with God, Thoreau responded, “I did not know we had ever quarreled.”

Thoreau’s last words were “Now comes good sailing”, followed by two unexplained words, “moose” and “Indian”.

He died on May 6, 1862, at age 44.

During his rather short life,  Thoreau had witnessed the transformation of his world from a community of farmers and artisans into a bustling, interconnected commercial nation. This was not a change that thrilled him.

He did not see those changes away from nature, self-reliance and simplicity as positive progress.

He was a contemplative individual and a proponent of finding the wilderness, wildness, even the bewilderness that remained in nature. Even if that wilderness was just a small woods, park or river near your home.

My sons gave me a Fitbit for Christmas in 2015 and I have tried to hit the recommended 10,000 steps a day. That’s the number that has always been recommended. I don’t hit that number most days. I seem to average out at about 6000. That’s better than nothing but not enough. But now it seems even 10,000 steps isn’t “enough.”

The best thing about having one of these fitness trackers is that it makes you mindful of your inactivity. On lousy winter days when I stayed in the house and worked on the computer, I would log less than 2000 steps.

Now, on the Fitbit blog they discuss a recent study  that found that employees who sit the most tend to have higher BMIs, bigger waistlines, and higher cholesterol than those who moved more. That is not a shocking result. I could have told you that and you wouldn’t have to give me a grant. The researchers also found that those who were hitting about 15,000 steps (roughly seven miles) a day had normal BMIs and waistlines and no heightened risk of heart disease.

But 15,000 steps – 7 miles?

I wouldn’t label myself as “sedentary” but I certainly spend too much time in front of screens – computers and TV.  I don’t need a fancy tracker to tell me that.

The suggestion is to increase your steps by 1,000 then 2,000 a day for a week or two and continue until you get to 15,000.

Part of the problem for me is boredom. I have never been able to do the gym thing. Exercise on machines totally bores me. And when it comes to  steps… I love walking, but I like walking in the woods or at least in a park. I do that whenever I can, but I also have been walking around the workplace and around my neighborhood.

The suggested ways to increase your steps are always things like squeezing in a couple of 10 to 15-minute walks and walking everywhere within a one-mile radius instead of using the car. Of course, the walk to the coffee shop probably isn’t “cardio” unless you are really walking fast.

10, 000 steps still has multiple health benefits, especially if you make the 10K at a fast pace. You need to determine the number that’s right for you.

 

Maybe it is because I taught in a public school for many years, but I still find myself feeling really tired and ready for a nap around 3 pm. What is going on with my body clock?

Sleepiness generally hits all of us 7-9 hours after we wake up from a night’s sleep. That’s not very convenient for anyone who works a normal day. If you wake up at 7 am, it will hit you somewhere from 2-4 pm.

Generally, we fight off the urge to sleep, but our alertness drops. Now that i am in unretired mode, I don’t fight off the feeling much. I take a nap, but for most of you that is not an option.

The fatigue can also be attributed to adenosine, a chemical that accumulates during the day and causes sleepiness. But don’t go out trying to find some adenosine to help you sleep at night. It is used for treating certain types of irregular heartbeat and during a stress test of the heart.

When this sleepiness hits, your internal body temperature also drops starts dipping, I do like a blanket for nap time and a drop in body temperature signals your brain to conserve energy and prepare for sleep.

So what can you do when a nap is not an option? Many people chug down some caffeine or crave a sugary snack. These are not very healthy relief. I love my morning coffee kick, but I can’t do caffeine in the afternoon without wrecking my sleep that night. My wife can have a strong cup of caffeine before she goes to sleep.

What are alternatives?

Dehydration can cause sleepiness, so a glass or two of water can also help. I try to log 64 ounces every day on my Fitbit app.

Get outside and get some sunlight. Twenty minutes of sunlight (through clouds counts too) sends a signal to that brain clock to turn on some energy to wake up and be more alert.

I love to walk and there is evidence that even a 10-minute walk that is brisk can energize you again. You can do it inside, but a walk outdoors adds that sunlight boost.

Want to add more to that walk? Make it social. Some research shows that talking with someone and social interaction can help give your mind a break and gets you to focus outside yourself. Get a walk buddy. Have a walking meeting. Even a phone call (not a text!) might help.

Lots of websites, like the Fitbit blog, will tell you that nap time isn’t just for pre-schoolers. Tell your boss that data shows that a brief, 20-minute nap can be enough to boost mental and physical performance.

I love walking. I love poetry. Here is a poem by Rumi that seems to be about walking, but it is not really about walking. I read it today while I was walking through the woods. There really are many ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

 

Keep walking, though there’s no place to get to.
Don’t try to see through the distances.
That’s not for human beings.
Move within, but don’t move the way fear makes you move.
Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened.
Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading.
Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī known popularly simply as Rumi (30 September 1207 – 17 December 1273), was a 13th-century Persian Muslim poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic. His poems have been widely translated into many of the world’s languages and transposed into various formats. Rumi has become a popular and best-selling poet in the United States.

After a week at home with a bad cold that had me coughing up a storm, it was good to finally get out and just take a short walk in the local woods.

While I was convalescing, I finally read Bill Bryson‘s book,  A Walk in the Woods, which had been on my bookstack for a few years.
Bill Bryson is an American who spent 20 years in England and has written  for British and American publications. I had had read earlier one of his travel memoirs – Notes from a Small Island. I had picked it up because I never got the chance to be an American in England. I had also read one of his language books, The Mother Tongue – English And How It Got That Way, because I have been an English teacher for four decades and a lover of language even longer.

A Walk in the Woods is the account of his attempts to walk the Appalachian Trail. After his years in England, Bryson (now living in New Hampshire, with his wife and his four children)  decided to reacquaint himself with his homeland by walking the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail. (The subtitle of the book is Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail)

I had the same ambition when I was in my early twenties to walk the AT from Georgia to Maine. My goal was to find myself rather than America.

I read several books about the trail, bought maps, made plans. Completing the entire 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail in one trip is a mammoth undertaking. Each year, thousands of hikers attempt a thru-hike and only about one in four makes it all the way.

According to AppalachianTrail.org, a typical thru-hiker takes 5 to 7 months to hike the entire A.T. You can walk in either direction, but there is a lot of planning, setting resupply points, regulations, and physical and mental preparations.

I did what many sojourners do at first. I hiked sections of the trail nearest to me on day and weekend hikes. My section hikes ended with a blown-out knee. Then came the birth of my sons, and life, and my hikes became mostly walks. That is not a bad thing.

I don’t know if my thru-hike would have been as fun or funny as Bryson’s. He is joined by an out-of-shape buddy, Stephen, who is often more on a quest to find a nice restaurants than enlightenment. He and Bryson find their stride and encounter many interesting and funny characters.

A Walk in the Woods is not all laughs and you’ll learn about the AT’s history and (hopefully) come to believe in the need for the conservation of this fragile wilderness.

The book would be a good weekend armchair adventure on a cold and snowy weekend. And if you’re not even up to a weekend reading adventure quite yet, you can start with the movie version of A Walk in the Woods with Robert Redford and Nick Nolte. I haven’t seen it yet, so leave me a review.

Happy trails to you.

walkaboutcvr

Drive or ride to work.  Sit in front of a computer. Lunch break – walk to place and sit, or just sit and eat at your desk. Sit on the way home. Sit down to dinner. Sit and read or watch TV.

Lots of articles tell us that we are sitting ourselves to death. There are even apps and devices to remind us to get up and do something more active. Which we largely ignore.

Have yo seen the commercial that reminds you that doing one push-up won’t help? Here’s a more optimistic look at small steps. It’s a new study that says that 10 minutes of walking after sitting for a long period of time can restore damage to our vascular system.

Of course, research shows something this week and if you give it some time – a few weeks, month, a year – another study will show the opposite. Eggs: bad for you; good for you. Fat-free = very bad; now, not so bad.

I am not a gym person. Can’t jog because of knees that gave out long ago and I’m trying to avoid surgery. (Doctor told me going up stairs is good. Going down stairs is very bad for the knees.) Exercise alone won’t save you. It might even make you age faster.

A little movement isn’t going to save you either, but it seems that (again, a new study) even fidgeting has a positive effect.

Fidgeting may reduce the risk of all-cause mortality associated with excessive sitting time. More detailed and better-validated measures of fidgeting should be identified in other studies to replicate these findings and identity mechanisms, particularly measures that distinguish fidgeting in a seated from standing posture.

Standing or treadmill desk? James Levine – the inventor of the treadmill desk and co-director of Obesity Solutions at the Mayo Clinic and Arizona State University and author of Get Up!: Why Your Chair is Killing You and What You Can Do About It – says of that gym time that “something you do at the end of the day for one hour, three evenings a week, doesn’t actually offset the harm for what you do 15 hours a day, seven days a week: sit. These are independent variables — excess sitting and the presence or absence of exercise. Doing exercise is great if you do it. But that doesn’t offset the harm, even in the few people who do it, from excess sitting.”

How much is “excess sitting?”  Sitting for 12 hours per day gives you a 6 percent risk of having a disability and an extra hour each day may up your likelihood by 3 percent.  twelve sounds so high, but add up all those times in my opening paragraph and you just might be there.

Any solutions?

Treadmill desks are pricey and I doubt that your company will let you get one anyway. How about walking meetings? Do that phone call while walking hands-free or on speaker. Sit on one of those balls instead of a chair. (Apparently fancy ergonomic chairs are not a solution) or instead of sitting at my desk.

[insert walking break here to go the bathroom and get a drink – 128 steps according to my Fitbit, which has actually made me more mindful of my lack of walking]

Coaches used to tell kids to “walk it off” when they had a minor injury. Turns out that isn’t necessarily good advice. Wish my track coach knew that when he told me to walk off a knee injury in high school. But you might just be able to walk off some of the harmful effects of our predominantly sedentary lifestyle. You don’t need to go on a walkabout or even a hike. A little bit of movement and walking is a lot better than none.

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Latest time-traveling verse from my continuing #ronka project at https://writingtheday.wordpress.com Family Guy pinball.  I have lost all claim to being a wizard. Easier to spot them in the morning after it rains Nice walk in the woods but more wildlife in neighbor's yard Paterson Light and Shadow tells the story of Paterson, NJ through Maria Mazziotti Gillan's poetry and Mark Hillringhouse's photography. #patersonnj #mariamazziottigillan #markhillringhouse Feeling as lazy as a daisy
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