While we are visiting in the States waiting on Little Man to be born, I've been walking every morning on a trail I've created in the back of my parents property. Since they live outside of the city limits, there are not leash laws and dogs all around the neighborhood bark and chase anyone who walks by. Instead of fending them off every morning, and since not walking is not an option, I decided to walk around the (large) back part of their property. I was surprised to find benefits to this besides just avoiding pesky dogs.
Walking between trees means I get to see lots of colorful birds every morning. Blue jays, cardinals, finches, mockingbirds, hummingbirds and wrens are common with an occasional rarer sighting of a painted bunting. Besides seeing them, hearing them can be therapeutic. Julian Treasure, a sound expert says "We are losing our listening." In a short talk, below that I think is more than worth your time to listen to, he shares five ways to re-tune your ears for conscious listening -- to other people and the world around you. In this speech he mentioned listening to birds, wind and water as healing forms of sound- two of which I get to experience every morning while walking. This morning time without loud sounds is so nice.
Going along with the lack of loud sound, comes the ability to think, pray, and analyze things. I'm not very good at sitting still and just thinking most of the time. There always seems to be way too much to do. I need to keep my body moving in order to think. If I'm walking, just the fact that my body is moving and that there is relative auditory peace gives my brain the freedom and time to meditate. Everyone needs some sort of time to do this. I don't realize how badly I need this until I miss it during the weekend and the contrast is stark.
Another benefit has been developing stronger ankle muscles from walking on uneven terrain. This means I have had to be more cautious, especially in the beginning, but now I appreciate that. I like the hills that are almost unexpected. It makes walking on a road or a track almost boring and harsh. :D (Not to mention treadmills, which have a different set of benefits.)
The (heightened-during-pregnancy) sense of smell also benefits. Have you ever walked around a neighborhood when all of the trash cans were out for trash day? Enough said. The trees and grass and even occasional dog presents still smell better than any roadside experience!
In the mornings, especially, I can also sense the changing seasons stronger than at any other part of the day. In our triple digit summer, walking outside not long after daybreak was the only cool time of the day... it was also the first time I could sense the gradual fall-like cooling of temperatures that quickly heated up to our normal, hot summer days just prior to autumn.
Though I normally walk before anyone else is up now that the school year has started, when I had to walk with Talia during vacations, walking outside was great because she could play while I was walking. I could see her at any point on the trail since she usually played in the middle and she loved getting to be outside. For us, it was a win-win.
Something that has been challenging is knowing distance, but a pedometer would make that simple.
Do you prefer walking outside, at a gym, on a track, on a road or is hiking more your style? I see benefits to all of them. Most of all, I love the privilege of being able to walk and intend to do it for as long as I'm able.