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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.

“In Wildness is the preservation of the world.” – Henry David Thoreau

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It felt a little odd to download Thoreau’s essay, Walking, to my tablet to read. I’m not sure how Henry David would feel about digital books. But I know he would still recognize walking all these years later.

It appeared in the June 1862 issue of the Atlantic Monthly. He must have liked it because between 1851 and 1860 Thoreau read the piece aloud ten times, more than any other of his lectures. “I regard this as a sort of introduction to all that I may write hereafter.”

On the essay’s first page, he writes:

I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks, who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering; which word is beautifully derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the middle ages, and asked charity, under pretence of going à la sainte terre” — to the holy land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a sainte-terrer”, a saunterer — a holy-lander. They who never go to the holy land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds, but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre, without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all, but the Saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea.

Thoreau mixed this essay in his lectures with another on wildness (not to be confused with wilderness) and says that private property is killing our capacity for wildness.

I love to walk. I try to walk outdoors every day. I try to walk, when I can, in whatever pieces of wilderness are nearby.

Like others, I find walking is a creative stimulant. I prefer a natural area but even walking in a city or around my suburban neighborhood can change the way you perceive the world.

sidewalk

A modern-day look at this is Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit which looks at  walking for pleasure as well as for political, aesthetic, and social meaning. Th book discusses some famous walkers  that I admire (Wordsworth, Gary Snyder) and argues for preserving the time and space in which to walk in our world that lacks both wildness and wilderness.

Solnit cherishes walking’s “relaxed gait, one that allows us to take in sights, sounds, and smells that we might otherwise pass by” and its opportunity for private thought.

I am also not alone in thinking of walking in a health-minded way and as a low-impact way of shedding a few pounds and stretching a few muscles.

Thoreau and Solnit both use walking to lead them to other subjects. Walking and philosophizing make good partners.

Fossil evidence shows that the ability to move upright on two legs is the characteristic that separated humans from the other beasts and has allowed us to dominate them. I would say that walking connects us to those early walkers, but as I recently wrote about the stars, that is probably not scientifically accurate.

“Further falling away of my childhood star knowledge came when I learned that our Polaris, which marks the north celestial pole in the sky, was not the star those ancients would have used to navigate. Kochab and Pherkad at the end of the Little Dipper were closer to the north celestial pole in 600 B.C. Learning how our sky view of the heavens has changed over the centuries isn’t at all disappointing to me, but rather a reminder that everything is changing.”

I suspect that those early walkers were walking with a lot more survival in mind than my sauntering. “How we spend our days, is, of course, how we spend our lives,” wrote Annie Dillard in The Writing Life. We make some tradeoffs in deciding between presence and productivity.

Being present in a walk can help you to see. “The art of seeing has to be learned,” says Marguerite Duras. Try On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyeswhich records walks around a city block with eleven different “experts,” from an artist to a geologist to a dog. Yes, walk like a dog walks, like a child walks, be as mindful as Sherlock Holmes, be as tuned in as Thoreau.

The headline was sensationalized, as most headlines, tweets and Facebook posts are these days, and reads “Harvard Unveils MRI Study Proving Meditation Literally Rebuilds The Brain’s Gray Matter In 8 Weeks.”

An 8 week rebuild sounds great. As does “lose 10 pounds in 2 weeks” and “earn $1000 a week at home by surfing the Internet.” So, I’m skeptical. But it has that Harvard piece of credibility, so I read on.

Test subjects taking part in an 8-week program of mindfulness meditation showed results that astonished even the most experienced neuroscientists at Harvard University.  The study was led by a Harvard-affiliated team of researchers based at Massachusetts General Hospital, and the team’s MRI scans documented for the very first time in medical history how meditation produced massive changes inside the brain’s gray matter.

Not really even hardcore meditation but 27 minutes a day of mindfulness exercises was “all it took to stimulate a major increase in gray matter density in the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.”

And the participants self-reported a reduction in stress that “correlated with decreased gray-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress. None of these changes were seen in the control group, indicating that they had not resulted merely from the passage of time.”

Sine I already do some meditation and mindfulness activities almost every day, I suppose I’ve already reaped the benefits as much as possible. Still, the past few weeks have been very stressful and the next month or so looks to be even more so. I guess that being more mindful of my mindfulness and having a daily practice for more than a half hour might be even better.  And a hourlong walk in the woods seems to do a lot of good.

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