Friday, March 20, 2020

Take a Hike

Staying at home, sheltering in place, not going to work… all together they are going to cause psychological problems. The breakdown of social routines and interactions is not going to do anyone very much good.

Added to that problem is the exercise factor. Staying at home means doing less exercise. In my neighborhood, gyms are closed, so people are left creating at-home exercise routines or taking walks.

Writing in the New York Times Alex Williams asks the apparently bizarre question: Is It OK to Take a Walk? I said that it seemed to be bizarre because we are now being told that we must ask permission for nearly any activity beyond cocooning.

Of course, it’s good to take walks, but only if you stay beyond spitting distance from other people. Being out on the street, passing strangers doing their own daily walks, provides a minimal level of social connection. It’s better than nothing. 

Williams writes:

Both transportation and meditation, the leisurely New York walk, long celebrated in literature, has come to symbolize not only a crucial thread in the city’s social fabric, as we migrate our social and, in many cases, work lives online, but a thread to sanity itself.

“When you walk, you’re utterly in touch with the drama of the city,” said the writer Vivian Gornick, whose 1987 memoir, “Fierce Attachments,” reissued last year, focused on long, illuminating strolls through the city with her mother. “You’re constantly overhearing conversations, and catching all kinds of snatches of people in odd expressions and conditions. No small city in the world can duplicate that experience.”

“When you’re out on the street,” she added, “it’s a continuous stream of momentary connection, and that has its own life, its own particular vividness, and it’s irreplaceable.”

The same can be said of cycling or jogging, although those activities tend to be more focused and goal-oriented. But whatever your preferred means of locomotion, local governments are attuned to the social and psychological benefits of head-clearing, heart-stimulating jaunts, even in the age of self-quarantines and social distancing.

Williams also provides us with first hand evidence of the advantage of walking.

This past Friday evening, as tension in the city began to crest, Taylor Davies, a 34-year-old copywriter who lives in the East Village, took a stroll from her apartment on Second Avenue through Alphabet City to the east.

“It was kind of incredible how quickly my mood rebounded from a sort of directionless despair — working from home and checking social media constantly — to somewhat hopeful and calm once I’d gone a few blocks,” Ms. Davies wrote in an email. “The cherry trees in Tompkins Square Park were in bloom, and brick buildings were bathed in glowy orange light. The more I walked, the better I felt.”

“Just putting one foot in front of the other a few thousand times has proved to be kind of a great reminder to take things as they come right now, day by day,” she added.

As for what you can do while staying at home, Gretchen Reynolds answers the question in the Times:

 “There is evidence that even about five minutes a day of mini-workouts could be sufficient” to help us maintain a baseline of fitness, says Martin Gibala, a professor of kinesiology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. And the necessary equipment and instruction for a full-body regimen are minimal.

“Mix push-ups, jumping jacks, burpees, lunges, stair ascents and descents, ideally with short recovery periods to keep heart rate up,” he says. In one of the studies he oversaw recently, young people who hurried up and down flights of stairs for about 20 seconds three times a day increased their aerobic fitness by about 5 percent after six weeks.

So, if you are absolutely housebound, consider enticing your children, dogs and spouse to head up and down the stairs with you a few times or engage in a rousing jumping jack competition. The dogs, I bet, will lose.

With any luck you can do even greater wonders for your health by taking a hike.


Webutante said...

I agree whole heartedly! My routine is now cooking and freezing food for my family just back from Paris and quarantined, devotionals and prayer time, responding to texts and calls and walking, walking, walking. The best, most calming antidote on the market! Stay well, Stuart!

Sam L. said...

I live in a rural area. Wife and I walked a mile (~) yesterday. Looking like nice weather to do it again.