Thursday, 3 September 2009

Shanks's Pony

I wonder if you've heard about the Nun Study, Dr. David A. Snowdon's research into aging. It's the most wonderful long-term observation into what might happen to us as we get older, carried out amongst a whole convent full of Catholic nuns in Minnesota. What's unusual about it is that all the nuns eat the same food and have accurate, comparable health records from a young age so researchers can rule out a lot of the variables that normally mess up your average health study.

One of the correlations (becasue it's tricky to say what's actually cause and effect) is that people who walk three miles a day stay healthy long into old age.
Current research reckons that longevity is influenced up to 75% by behaviour and attitude, not genetics, by the way. Since I found that out, I've tried to grab the opportunity to walk rather than take a lazier way of getting around whenever I have the time. It's selfishness really: naturally I want to stay fit for as long as I can manage, but I also find that walking has instant benefits for creative thinking. (Yoga too, but that's another story.)

For starters, on foot you have more time to notice what's happening around you. (You can choose not to; I have a friend who always strolls, deep in thought, staring at the pavement with his mind elsewhere.) If you like, you can observe people, buildings, clouds, spaces, faces, your neighbours' front gardens and your own reactions to them. When I'm stuck, really stuck, I love to go for a walk. Even just walking a slightly different route from usual can get you out of your rut. I've got six different direct routes to my tube station and I do like to vary them
just for the fun of it; it's a Edwardian working man's suburb - lots of parallel streets.

Time is a bit of a nuisance - well, absence of time to be more accurate - but if I'm on my way to a meeting or a workshop that's going to need me to delve into my deepest thinking resources, then I like to allow time to get there on Shanks's pony. (Grandma's term for legs.) It really does clear your mind of rubbish and fill it with interesting things - if you allow it, and put a bit of effort it.

My great grandmother made the local papers when she walked three miles to a party aged 92 then refused a lift home and hoofed it all the way back again. I'm rather hoping to follow in her footsteps, so to speak. In the meantime, for a good spring clean of the mental cobwebs, I shall be walking whenever... Machines in gyms don't work by the way. That's not one of Dr. Snowdon's conculsions; that's just what I think. They might help your health, but they don't refill your inspiration tanks.

The kit: for a formal event: Paul Smith brogues. They take a few months to break in then they are like walking on clouds, leathers ones. Informal around town: I've not found a walking shoe to beat my Nike Shox. Muddy: Merrell. Fields: barefoot but watch for cowpats. I've done that. Heels, if you must: Cole Haan G-Series with Nike Air technology. People tell me that Crocs are comfortable, but I wouldn't be seen dead, darlings.

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