Oh no!
It looks like you aren't logged in to the Ethel community. Log in to get the best user experience, save your favorite articles and quotes, and follow our authors.
Don't have an Online Account? Subscribe here

Beat Any Blues by Walking Through the Seasons of Life

How my walks have boosted my mental fitness for decades.

Comment Icon
Rural winter scene with heavy frost covering a country road.
Getty Images
Comment Icon

Feeling lousy? Take a walk. As a committed walker since I did the 30-mile Hike for Hunger in high school, I do love what this exercise does for the body. Yet what I love most of all is what it does for the psyche and soul.

As we end another year plagued by a pandemic and uncertainty, we all have woes that differ in severity. Walking cannot bring back jobs lost or loved ones passing. Yet those brisk jaunts — arms swinging, head held high — unfailingly elevate moods and ease us through the dark tunnels of our lives — and even give us more of that life.

According to the Harvard Medical School study “Walking for Health,” this exercise is nothing short of a miracle drug, curing all sorts of ails. "Walking can have a bigger impact on disease risk and various health conditions than just about any other remedy that’s readily available to you,” says the study. “Walking for 2.5 hours a week — that’s just 21 minutes a day — can cut your risk of heart disease by 30%. In addition, this do-anywhere, no-equipment-required activity has also been shown to reduce the risk of diabetes and cancer, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and keep you mentally sharp.” My mother did not know any of this stuff in the 1960s. All she knew was that swift movement could turn a crabby kid into a happier one.

Whenever I had the blues, my mom would say, “Go run around the block” — even in the Chicago winter. And this I did, returning red-faced, breathless and forgetting what had been bringing me down. I am no longer a runner, though I do walk very fast and still return with that feeling I had as a child — spunkier and more hopeful.

When we made the choice to move near the Chesapeake Bay and raise our children there, I was impressed with the schools and the intimacy of the community. Another compelling lure was the Baltimore-Annapolis trail, the woodsy spine of splendor that never fails to leave me both sweaty and soothed.

I have walked through the many seasons of life, along paths of dirt and snow, and through moods of confusion and sadness and joy. I walked through the illnesses and deaths of my parents and the transition from ebullient newlywed to a mother of four sons with a mortgage.

I walked through worrying about the boys’ first days of school to wild teenage parties, and through the lonely sting of an empty nest. I walked through the evisceration of the twin towers and through too many wars. I steadied myself on walks during the roller coaster of a 34-year marriage.

On each birthday, I walk for miles, alone, celebrating this day that I am still here, having lived more of life than that left to live. I change with the seasons, as I walk through the sauna of July, the prism of October and in the bluster of January, my face chapped raw, fully alive in the chill. Turns out a full life can last a long time if we keep at it for decades.

Reaching the popularized goal of 10,000 steps daily may not be necessary. A comprehensive study published in 2019 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine that tracked steps-per-day of 16,741 women with a mean age of 72 years, over a period of a week, concluded with this: “Women who averaged approximately 4,400 steps [per day] had significantly lower mortality rates during a follow-up of 4.3 years compared with the least active women who took approximately 2,700 steps [per day]. As more steps per day were accrued, mortality rates progressively decreased before leveling at approximately 7,500 steps [per day].”

This is great news for women like me who walk as their primary exercise and may be daunted by the dictum that we need to reach 10,000 steps or else! Some crammed days when I cannot get out on the trail, I walk up and down my long driveway 20 times and I have no idea how many steps I take. I do know when I get back into my kitchen, I am far more relaxed.

That’s the best part of taking a good walk. No matter how old or fit we are, putting on sweats and sneakers and taking a stroll is instantly accessible, as well as therapeutic and mood enhancing. Lots of friends have fancy fitness gear indoors, on which they work their bodies to jelly, as virtual trainers bark out orders. And in the most brutal of weather, I do appreciate my low-tech and unfancy treadmill.

Though on most days, in most seasons, there is nothing like getting out of the house, out of our churning brains, and into fresh air and open skies that jolt all of our senses awake. Those of us who are able to take regular walks in the woods feel what Henry David Thoreau realized when he wrote this in Walden: “We need the tonic of the wilderness. We can never have enough of nature.”

Giddy and exhausted, having whittled off calories and built up an appetite, my evening walks can end up in my kitchen, with a glass of cabernet and some fatty, gooey cheeses. I devour these goodies with finesse, knowing that the next day I can walk them off.

And, so round and round the circle of the seasons go, the shifts in weather and the shifts of mind. Though what never changes is my absolute knowing that when the going gets tough, I can get out there and walk through any tunnels and into the light.

This foggy December morning, I walked through a sputtering of cold rain. The shiver I felt was one that brought on a huge smile, and the sense I always get when I am moving swiftly under towering trees — that I am ready for anything.

Editor's Picks
This always brings her back to me.
, May 16, 2024
How I have tapped into its power and you can, too.
, May 16, 2024
What one mother says about what your kids need to know.
, May 16, 2024