Saturday 17 February 2018

Is walking the answer to your problems?

Every now and then you will be reading a celebrity interview and the C-lister in question will claim to breakfast daily on porridge with a sprinkling of chopped fruit and pumpkin seeds. At this point you know you are being lied to because who puts up with porridge every day for more than a week, no matter how many strawberries are in it? Everything has its limits – even walking.

Just occasionally, the idea of walking for its own sake will leave you cold. Some people thrive on routine and repetition, but some find it numbing and abhorrent.

Most of us are somewhere in between, and eventually we will need either a break or fresh motivation – and it is not always easy to find.

You may be raising your sights too high. The reason you should walk today may be the very thing uppermost in your mind right now; the thing that has nothing whatsoever to do with fitness, health or lifestyle; the thing you cannot get your head around or your mind away from.

Solvitur ambulando (it is solved by walking) is a nicely sonorous phrase attributed to St Augustine, who walked and solved in the 4th Century. Maybe it is the change in perspective brought by movement, or the stimulation of increased blood flow to the brain. Whatever, sometimes it is worthwhile just going with what works.

In 1882, Serbian physicist Nikolai Tesla was walking in Budapest with a friend, reciting verses from Goethe's Faust, or so he later claimed, when the solution to a nagging problem flashed metaphorically before his eyes. The result was the AC induction motor, and a new era of washing machines and food blenders was born.

A cynic might suggest that Tesla could as easily have been in a bar singing 'My Boomerang Won't Come Back' at the moment of revelation (I know it works for me), but the role of walking in stimulating resolution and insight has been documented for millennia.

The effect is not always either specific or demonstrable. It can be nothing more than the feeling that a solution is out there, or a renewed vigour in the pursuit of it. It can impose order on a string of thoughts to add coherence, or untie mental knots.

My point is, you can walk happily out of habit, satisfyingly through discipline or spontaneously for the love of it. And, sometimes, as a tool in the daily struggle to work things out, big or small. Problem solving is the purpose of intelligence, ergo walking makes you smarter. That is about as much incentive as you are ever going to get.

I do try the celebrity porridge breakfast every once in a while, but my record is four days on the trot. By then it has maple syrup, honey, raisins and a banana in it, and somehow the point is lost.

Conor O'Hagan is editor of the bi-monthly Walking World Ireland magazine.

Irish Independent

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