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I’ve believed in these six little words since I was a teen, and they’ve never let me down

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As someone who has already had five “worst days of my life” this month, I am not afraid of a little hyperbole, but even I am impressed by this gem from Charles Dickens: “If I could not walk far and fast,” he wrote, “I think I should just explode and perish.”

Obviously, Dicko was hamming it up, and yet I kind of know where he’s coming from.

For as long as I can remember, probably since I learnt how to, going for a walk has been a daily ritual that doubled as a cure-all for whatever might be troubling me. If I could just get out for a nice little walk, then any chance I might explode or perish was greatly diminished.

“Should we go for a walk?” are the six most powerful words in the English language.Credit: Marija Ercegovac

Growing up in a nothing-to-do and nowhere-to-go suburb, I would walk until the streetlights came on, fantasising about busting out of this (perfectly charming) suburban prison and becoming a proper adult with a real job and actual money.

Of course, the great irony is now I am a proper adult (kind of) with a real job, and I would give anything to buy a house in my old nothing-to-do and nowhere-to-go suburb, but sadly, I cannot afford it.

Anyway, the point is walking was a way of escaping, an accidentally meditative one-foot-in-front-of-the-other ritual that gave me time to dream, think, plot and plan.

When I was a little older, I moved into the city, a place where walking immediately becomes a part of your personality. If you live within a 10-kilometre radius of any CBD, there is an unspoken rule that you must walk everywhere and mention it to everyone.

“Oh, I walk everywhere” was the kind of thing I said regularly, partly because I liked how it sounded but mostly because it was true. Around this time, I also used walking as a cheap way of dating, inviting prospective lovers on aimless strolls around the city, believing this made me seem interesting, like a character from Before Sunrise. Ooh, he’s so mysterious; he just wants to walk and talk.

Really, I was just broke and out of ideas, but the power of those six simple words – “Should we go for a walk?” – never failed. Even the worst first date could be salvaged by walking silently beside someone you’ll never see again.

Then came the pandemic and, with it, a wave of restrictions that elevated walking into one of the most exciting things we could legally do. Suddenly, everyone was strolling onto the bandwagon, walking serving as both an excuse to get outside and a way of staying sane.

COVID may have taken so much from us, but it blessed us with a new appreciation of walking. Credit: Stock

Countless studies with serious names like The effect of COVID-19 response policies on walking behaviour reinforced what Greek physician Hippocrates figured out centuries ago: “Walking is man’s best medicine.”

Hippocrates is far from the only profound thinker to gush about the importance of doing a daily lap of the block.

Friedrich Nietzsche believed that “all truly great thoughts are conceived while walking”, and it’s fair to say he had some pretty great (albeit depressing) thoughts. T.S. Eliot was more of a 10,000 steps-a-day guy, suggesting, “Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go,” while Craig David reminded us that the best way to handle troubles in your life is to simply walk away.

However, perhaps my favourite thought comes from American essayist Henry David Thoreau, who correctly observed, “An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.”

Getting up early and going for a walk is a foolproof way to make you feel better than everyone and better about yourself.Credit: Greg Newington

In the grand hierarchy of Best Times to Walk, early morning is absolutely unrivalled, with late afternoon and early evening coming in a distant second and third. Not only is it impossible to feel unhappy on an early morning walk, you get the added benefit of judging everyone who is not awake and strolling.

Since becoming a parent, it has become a crucial part of the routine, leaving me more convinced than ever that “Should we go for a walk?” holds mystical healing powers.

Babies are famously impossible to predict (and annoyingly silent about their issues), but if you whack them in the pram and walk them through the world, everything will be OK.

This exposure therapy is working on my son, who already seems keen to follow in my literal footsteps. Despite being unable to crawl, he is desperate to get moving, spending hours attempting to manoeuvre his tiny body from one place to another.

With each effort, I recognise a look in his eye, a Dickensian determination that says: “If I could not walk far and fast, I think I should just explode and perish.”

Find more of the author’s work here. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Instagram at @thomasalexandermitchell and on Twitter @_thmitchell.

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