Mark Kennedy: My strangely satisfying daily walks may be numbered

·3 min read

May 15—I come from a family of fast walkers.

My paternal grandfather, who died before I was born, was the principal of a small elementary school in rural Middle Tennessee. He walked several miles to his schoolhouse every day at such a fast pace that people thought it was strangely amusing.

My mother, who died in 2006, was a fast walker, too. In her later years, she put in laps every weekday inside the mall in our hometown, striding past J.C. Penney and Sears while eating chocolate bars for energy.

During the last year, COVID isolation has activated my walking genes — not to be confused with my walking jeans, which are also getting a good workout.

Most days I get in my 10,000 steps, the theoretical magic threshold for good health. I always thought that was such a round number that it must be contrived, and I was right. A recent study showed that 7,500 steps a day is just as good.

I walk almost every day. On the days I miss, I feel guilty. I have some health conditions that are improved by walking, but mental health is where I get the biggest boost. I've never been able to sit still long enough to meditate, but I can feel myself unwinding during these daily three-mile walks.

I have come to understand that I don't walk so much as I march. When I really find the groove, I drift back to my days in marching band. I can almost hear the bass drums resonating through my chest and the snare drums answering with syncopated rim shots. I was a member of my college band's drumline, and the sensation of being the beating heart of a group of marchers is always a feeling that I can summon.

Here's a stupid human trick: I can flex a muscle in my ears known as the tensor tympani to mimic the sound of a base drum pounding a beat while clicking my teeth to play the accompanying snare drumline. The result is a sort of inner beatbox that provides an excellent cadence for my 120 beats per minute walking pace. (This is the first time I've ever put words to the habit, and I can see how they would sound a bit loony. If you choose to conclude from this revelation that I march to a different drummer, you would be correct.)

It is in this marching trance that I find my Zen moments.

On my daily walks I also get my minimum daily dose of nature. A couple of years ago, English researchers discovered that people who spend two hours a week in nature are more satisfied with their health. In other words, happier. I read the fine print of the report, and walking through a neighborhood counts as nature.

When you cover the same path day after day, you can choose to be bored, or you can delight in the subtle changes in the landscape that most people never see. For instance, just today, I noticed that the azalea fireworks are almost over, the red and white blooms are all but gone. But rhododendron blooms are ascendant, and soon the hydrangea plants will lift their sleepy round heads.

I worry that when we go back to work, all this will just become a blur again and the drumbeat in my head will melt into the slap, slap, slap of car tires on freeway expansion joints as I commute to work.

I will still take walks, but I'll be distracted by the daily grind. The marching band in my head will stop. The flowers will wilt.

Normal will return.

Yay ... I guess.

Email Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com.

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