Many of us sit in front of a computer at work, go home to watch TV, go to bed scrolling through social media, then wake up to social media, then rinse and repeat. It’s a bleak picture of the modern world.
I was listening to a mystery novel written in the ’70s, and one character casually mentioned “going out for air.” The phrase caught my attention, and it reminded me of our basic human need for fresh air. The fact is, we spend a great deal of our lives in front of screens and cooped up to our detriment.
I’ve started taking regular walks, and it does wonders for our distraction-ladened workdays. Here are some reasons to make “getting some air” a daily part of your routine.
One: walks improve our physical health
There are lots of health benefits to walking regularly.
- Walking counteracts the effects of weight-promoting genes.
- Walking eases joint pain.
- Walking boosts immune function.
- Walking decreases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Walking reduces body fat.
Any daily exercise will improve our physical health over time, but it’s surprising that something as low-key as a daily brisk walk can improve our health to such an extent.
If you’re young, these benefits may seem like something to worry about when you’re older. Yet, arguably, our mental health receives even more enhancement from getting outside and taking a walk.
Two: walks take care of our mental health
Walking can clear our heads and help us to gather our thoughts. A stroll gives our minds some space to breathe away from screens. It can calm our anxiety and bring about a better mood. For work, it can also help improve concentration and mental well-being.
- Reduced anxiety
- Improved mood
- Enhanced (especially divergent) creativity
- Increased concentration
- Improved CBF (blood flow to the brain)
- And increased energy levels
While walking seems to bring greater quality of life in and of itself, research says that walking in nature compounds those effects. The beauty and calm of green spaces help us handle our hectic lives, improve our mood, and give us a boost of energy.
As one study puts it: “walking through forest areas decreased the negative moods of ‘depression-dejection,’ ‘tension-anxiety,’ ‘anger-hostility,’ ‘fatigue,’ and ‘confusion’ and improved the participants’ positive mood of ‘vigor.’”
Three: Albert Einstein, C. S. Lewis, Aristotle, and Jesus were serial walkers
If better mental states and physical health benefits weren’t enough, some of the most impactful thinkers alive regularly took walks.
Albert Einstein typically walked a mile and a half every day while at Princeton, contemplating quantum mechanics.
The ancient Greek thinker Aristotle was one of the greatest philosophers who ever lived. His students were called peripatetics (walkers) because they often walked while philosophizing.
Two of the most brilliant English writers of the twentieth century, C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkein, often took long strolls. C. S. Lewis was a “ruthless walker” according to Tolkein, while he preferred a more leisurely strolling pace. In 1931, Lewis and Tolkien and their friend Hugo Dyson talked about myths and Christianity while on a stroll and then late into the night. That day-long discussion became a turning point for Lewis on his journey to Christianity.
Jesus probably walked well over three thousand miles during his three years of ministry. He did this while traveling between towns in first-century Palestine, and probably never for leisure. But he also at times separated himself from crowds to pray and be alone with God (Luke 5:16).
The discipline of solitude, prayer, and Christian meditation can all be wrapped up in one daily ritual: walking. While it’s beneficial to walk just for a clearer head and better mood, we can also take advantage of that distraction-free space to commune with God.
The advent of computers, smartphones, TVs, and the ubiquity of screens should make “going out for air” an essential part of our modern life.