Find your play in walking your way to fitness in 2024

by Gazette Reporter
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It’s the start of a brand New Year, 2024 – a time for a long lingering and honest look in the mirror before planning a sustained fitness plan for the next twelve months, I think of my long departed American friend Dr George Sheehan who was first and foremost a runner, but  also a great advocate of walking. 

George was a regular visitor to Ireland, especially around Dublin Marathon time in October. He loved to walk and run in Trinity College and in Djouce Woods in Wicklow and he left us with many nuggets of inspiration through his writings. George’s insightful, thoughtful advice and commentary – often drawn from such great philosophers as Plato, Nietzsche, Emerson and William James- pointed the way toward a physiologically and spiritually fuller life.

When he wrote about happiness, George said: “I am not adept at happiness. I cannot produce it on demand, but by following the advice of Emerson, Campbell and others I can put myself in situations where happiness is more likely to occur. What strikes me is how easy this is for children and how outrageously difficult it is for adults. This childhood capacity seems to return as one ages. If you would be happy, look at the old and the young.”

George goes on to quote Bertrand Russell: “Man is an animal and his happiness depends on his physiology more than he likes to think.”

Russell thought that the trained body was important. “Unhappy business men, he stated, “would increase their happiness more by walking six miles every day than by any conceivable change in philosophy.”

Walking six miles a day is likely to change one’s philosophy as well. Thousands of walkers – and runners, swimmers and cyclists – will attest to a new sense of life’s meaning arrived at during their physical activity, The mind is in motion as well as the body.

David Matthews, two-time Olympic athlete and holder of the Irish 800m and 1000m records, left, and Frank Greally, who fifty years ago today set a 10,000 metres National Junior record of 30:17, at the launch of ‘Gratitude Road’, a walk from Ballyhaunis in Mayo, via the Coombe Women & Infants University Hospital, to The Morton Stadium in Santry, Dublin.
Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Betrand Russell thought it was impossible to be happy without activity – of both mind and body. “When things are bad,” observed Russell, “what a person needs is not a new philosophy but a new regimen – a different diet, or more exercise.” That advice may seem simplistic but I think that many thousands of people who have discovered the benefits of walking for wellness will fully understand what Russell is saying.

George Sheehan loved to walk, run and write. He was 45 and living a sedentary life when he said he ‘woke up’, pulled the emergency cord and started to walk and run again.

George wrote: “Often we do not recognize the lack of play in our lives. We are unaware of the effects it would have on all the functions of our personality. We live without the forces available to us in every aspect of our being. We operate without this force which would transform our day- to- day living.

“The first influence of play is on our bodies. It brings with it exercise. Medicine and surgery attack disease but they do not cover health. This resides in the fully functioning body, be it sick or well. Health is the best we can be. Health is getting the most out of the body we were born with. The playful use of exercise such as walking is what brings this about.”

“A walk is one of the secrets of dodging old age,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. In the fight against ageing, mental fitness is as important as physical fitness. Mental fitness gets you up and going: mental fitness gives you a new attitude – a new attitude to life; mental fitness gives you the drive and energy to make plans for a healthy future. 

By walking regularly you cut your rate of physical decline by half. ‘Use it or lose it’ is the adage.  In addition to improving cardiovascular health, walking helps with back pain, arthritis, osteoporosis, varicose veins, reducing cholesterol and other medical problems where inactivity is a factor. 

Here are a few interesting research findings about walking:

1 Walking counteracts the effects of weight-promoting genes. Havard researchers looked at 32 obesity-promoting genes in over 12,000 people to determine how much those genes actually contribute to body weight. They discovered that, among the study participants who walked briskly for about an hour a day, the effects of those were cut in half.

2 Walking boosts immune function. Walking can help protect you during cold and flu season. A study of over 1,000 men and women found that those who walked at least 20 minutes a day, at least five days a week, had 43% fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less. And if they did get sick, it was for a shorter duration and their symptoms were milder.

I can from experience, recommend that set yourself a few Walking Goals for 2024.

A few years ago I set myself a goal of walking from my home town of Ballyhaunis to the site of the Old Coombe Hospital in Dublin where I was born. The walk took 12 days to complete- about 12 miles a day but it was worth every step of the journey. I called my Walk- Gratitude Road – because I believe that if we have a full sense of gratitude for our Gift Of Days, we will make daily purposeful walking top of our To Do List.

It’s about making a daily appointment with yourself to walk doe wellness and continuing good health. I’d like to hear your Walking Stories.

Get in touch at: [email protected]

Written by Frank Greally

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