The Habit of Walking

“Somewhere at sometime he had discovered that a man needs a two-hour walk for his health”, said the son of the Russian composer, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, in talking about his father. I discovered this quote in a book called Daily Rituals by Mason Currey. The book explores the daily routines of approximately 200 of the greatest creative minds of the last few centuries. Pyotr was just one of countless examples such as Darwin, Beethoven and Kierkegaard whose daily routine depended in some fashion on the habit of walking. In fact, besides my shock at how much smoking, coffee, alcohol, and to a lesser degree, amphetamines, were behind many of these creatives’ brilliant work, I was most surprised to find that walking was the number one consistency I found amongst them. That is not to say that everyone included walking in the divulgence of their daily routines, but many and maybe even most of them did, and many of those who did walked significant distances indeed.

This is not the first time that it has dawned on me that walking may be a secret superpower of sorts to the well-lived life and more manageably the well-done day. I was first turned onto walking during my junior year of college while studying abroad in Florence and each morning walking out our apartment door, passing the Mercado Centrale, and then the Duomo, and finally taking a bridge parallel to the Ponte Vecchio to get to the main school building. I reckon it was about a 15 or 20 minute walk, and if there was any way to get introduced to walking, that would have been it, hungover as death, crossing maybe the most beautiful city in the world, with the Florentine smell of fresh pastries and espressos in the air.

The habit of walking each morning and throughout the day stuck with me when I returned stateside that summer and moved out to San Francisco for a 10-week internship in investment banking. I got a room in a three-bedroom apartment about a mile away from the office and on the same street called Sutter, just a block above Post and below that Geary where it really starts to feel like you are on set for an episode of The Walking Dead. Still, Sutter was pleasant enough and I enjoyed walking down it each morning, rain or shine, on my way to the office.

The habit stuck when I joined full-time the following summer and even after I moved to an apartment that was more like two and a half miles away. On Fridays, when I got out at a reasonable hour, I would enjoy the walk home as well, a rarer treat and welcomed way to start the weekend.

I brought the habit back to New York too and the weather was worse but the vibe was better and there’s no place on earth where the hard heel of a brown leather shoe clicks when it hits the ground like it does in New York, surrounded by suits and hunter boots on a rainy day.

In the last year, I started running more and walking less, but in the last couple of months, I have started walking more again. While running at a slow enough pace (which I prefer) may come to feel like a natural state of movement which one could continue for any distance and any time, walking naturally is that activity and it always feels that way. In my experience, it takes many more miles of walking than running to feel truly tired — you can just go and go and go, so long as you don’t get bored of it. For my commutes, I often listened to music or nothing at all. Now, I usually listen to podcasts, if anything. I find the podcast keeps me away from boredom but also away from my surroundings and my thoughts or undistracted being, all of which there is something to be said for. An hour-long walk without audio may sound intimidatingly boring and ancient but if we are to learn anything from some of the great creatives of the last few centuries, there is something to be said for the simple walk in and of itself.

I believe walking is good for the mind, body, and what some people call soul. I’ve been thinking a lot this year about some of the best ways to spend my time for the purposes of health, wealth, and happiness. While I may not get wealthy directly by walking, I’ll probably be healthier and happier, and any activity that covers two out of the three main things reliably is probably something worth doing for me. I appreciate that just because many of the greats walked a lot does not mean that it was causal to their success or that it is necessarily a great thing to do. I certainly would not suggest trying to keep up with many of them in the number of cigarettes smoked throughout a lifetime. Nonetheless, I think walking is a worthwhile habit to experiment with incorporating into one’s daily routine, so long as one is able, and if it proves to be something that one enjoys and feels is good for them, well, it seems good to do the things we enjoy which feel good for us. Time for a walk for me.