The Joy of Running and Walking

Aerobic exercise increases the heart rate and thereby helps to improve your cardiovascular system, stave off heart disease and improve circulation and muscle tone. It can provide you with more energy, perhaps help you lose weight, probably make you sleep better and certainly make you look and feel a lot better about yourself. But of all the possible forms of aerobic activity, why choose running and walking?

For starters, running and walking are two of the least expensive sports. Once you invest in a good pair of shoes, you’re done. Compare this with the cost of golf, skiing, hockey or even tennis – there are no pads to wear, green fees to pay lift tickets to buy or balls to wear out. Running and walking are also easy to get involved in. All it takes is a pair of good shoes, a little time and a healthy dose of motivation. You can do it practically anywhere. Some people like to run alongside busy streets, others to walk on tree-shaded park trails. Some like to walk along the beach at sunset, some run in the dead of night between deserted skyscrapers. You can go the competitive route and enter races, or spend the rest of your life in pursuit of personal goals, never bothering to check your time and distance, simply running and walking for the sheer joy and benefits of it.

You can run and walk your whole life. With proper conditioning, your body will go for a long time, well into old age. It is something you can do with friends or alone – you don’t need other people the way you do with tennis, racquetball, soccer, hockey, basketball or Frisbee. You don’t have to wait for someone to meet you, then feel stuck when the person doesn’t show up. You can warm up, run or walk for 20 minutes, cool down, shower and get on with the rest of your day, just like that.

If you do choose to go out by yourself, running and walking can give you something you may have difficulty finding in your life: time to get away from it all and be alone with your own thoughts. If you have a busy career and/or a growing family, you can sometimes feel pretty squeezed. Everybody needs some time alone and running and walking can give you that time.

Alternatively, you can make new friends. If you choose to join a running or walking group, you will meet people you might never have met in other circumstances – people whose other interests in life are entirely different from yours. Doctors run with dockworkers who walk with flight attendants who run with factory workers, and so on. People who run and walk together accept each other as equals.

Running and walking can teach you a lot about who you are. It can show you your limitations and give you the opportunity to move past them. If you keep raising the bar, running and walking can give you the tremendous feeling that bars were meant to be raised. It takes commitment, determination, desire, hard work and a sense of self-worth. Think how many other areas in your life could benefit from your having these attributes.

Note: This article is adapted from the revised edition of The Beginning Runner’s Handbook, Greystone Publishing, Vancouver, BC, 2005

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