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I have discovered a few good habits during this unusual year. Perhaps the best of them has been walking. Ever since the pandemic started, I have stepped out for a long walk, late evening every day, after shutting down my work-from-home office desk. For one hour, suitably masked, I walk. Sometimes briskly, at other times just strolling along. Sometimes stopping to see the rising moon, at other times watching children play. Sometimes silent and cocooned in my own moving space. At other times, chatting with my wife, who has been my most enthusiastic co-walker.

Very quickly, these daily walks became incredibly rewarding, and I began looking forward to them. The original reason I had begun walking was to give myself good physical exercise. A simple alternative to working out at my gymnasium, which had shut down soon after the covid-19 outbreak began.

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Indeed, this continues to be a good reason because walking has helped me stay fit and healthy. Medical studies show that walking has many cardiovascular benefits, which protect us against risk factors such as blood pressure, vascular stiffness and inflammation. But equally importantly, a brisk, long walk each day has also helped me keep my weight under control. That is reassuring, because I can then walk my way into a nice, hearty dinner, which is a wonderful way to end a tiring day.

I soon found out that there are many other benefits of regular walking, which I had not quite anticipated. For starters, walking has made me calmer, and has helped dissipate any work-related stress that builds up during the day. There is something naturally rhythmic and pleasing about a long outdoor walk that keeps various anxieties at bay. The steady steps forward, with open space all around, and sometimes, a nice breeze too, is liberating in its feel. Walking helps me get far away from my unruly work-desk, which is perhaps a calming influence in itself.

Going with the flow

Walking has also given me an unadulterated space to think. Walking in my own natural style, with hands swinging gently, requires no conscious effort, and so my thoughts are free to wander. As a rule, I had decided not carry my mobile phone on these evening walks, so there are no digital interruptions either, which greatly frees up the mind to think. I have used these walks to think through some challenging work areas and a few family and personal matters.

Henry David Thoreau once said, “Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow." Scientists who came after Thoreau have discovered why this may be so: Walking pumps more blood and oxygen to our brain. What’s more, there appears to be a deep relationship between the way we move our bodies and the way we think. Walking at different speeds can actually help us modulate the pace of our thoughts too. Quick fleeting thoughts or deep immersive thinking, walks help us with both.

Then, there is the entire exciting space of creativity and ideation. My walks have helped me immensely with developing new ideas—for a marketing campaign that has been on my mind, or, indeed, for my next piece of writing.

Ideas for two new books and several columns took shape during these daily walks—these were sometimes developed in conversation with my wife, at other times in the recesses of my own mind. It is difficult to pinpoint what exactly provoked these ideas, but I think nature has something to do with it—looking up at the night skies, hearing leaves rustle, listening to birds chirping, touching a tree, observing a frog jumping by—all these activities along my walking track have a rejuvenating quality, and they have often sparked off a new idea too.

Research done at Stanford University, by Marily Oppezzo and Daniel L. Schwartz, has found that a person’s creative output increased by an average of 60% while walking. Small wonder Steve Jobs often conducted walking meetings. The research also found that such enhanced creativity continues to flow even after a person has returned from a nice walk. Hence, it would be useful for teams to consider scheduling brainstorming sessions—when creativity is most required—immediately after participants have completed brisk walks.

A way of life

While walking has indeed helped me with fitness, calmness of mind, thinking and creativity, perhaps my greatest joy has come from my walking conversations.

My wife and I are working professionals, and the ability to snatch an entire hour away from the world, and talk to each other about various matters of common interest—sometimes important things, at other times, just cabbages and kings—has had a lasting, meaningful impact. These conversations have sometimes made me reflect, at other times they have reinforced some shared opinions or even sharp differences in views. But they have always left me happier and more fulfilled.

Occasionally, I have also been joined on these walks by colleagues and friends who stay in the same Mumbai apartment complex as I do. Conversations with them have also been enriching. We have spoken about topics as diverse as leadership, marketing strategies, pandemic poetry and home-made butter chicken rolls, as we ambled along purposefully to our next walking milestone. There is something that links walking and talking closely together. I often feel that I naturally talk more freely while walking, rather than in any other setting.

For all these reasons, I intend to walk my way into the New Year. It is a habit worth its legs in gold, and the only accessories you need are a mask (until the pandemic goes away), and a good pair of shoes (for all time to come).

Harish Bhat works with the Tata Group. He thinks the words “go take a walk" have now assumed new meaning.

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