“Never sit your life out”

Bruce Chatwin (1940-1989), so much more than a travel writer, was a cosmopolitan walker. He said:

“Change is the only thing worth living for. Never sit your life out at a desk. Ulcers and heart condition follow.”

He’s found his Boswell (or another one) in Rory Stewart, who’s written the introduction to a new edition of Songlines.

Most of human history was conducted through contacts, made at walking pace…the pilgrimages to Compostela in Spain…to the source of the Ganges, and wandering dervishes, sadhus, and friars, who approached God on foot. The Buddha meditated by walking, and Wordsworth composed sonnets while striding beside the Lakes. Bruce Chatwin concluded from all these things that we would think and live better, and be closer to our purpose as humans, if we moved continually on foot across the surface of the earth.

What Chatwin knew intuitively has been repeatedly confirmed. One recent study concluded that self-propelled motion in the open air, not in a gym or on a treadmill, “had a 50 percent greater positive effect on mental health than going to the gym… walking, running, biking and other outdoor activities through green space lowered stress.” Another links outdoor exercise to greater decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression… just five minutes of exercise in a green space can improve mood and self-esteem.

And all of these outcomes correlate with greater philosophical insight and steadier daily productivity. Well, that’s the working hypothesis of the study I’ve embarked on this summer. Results await confirmation.

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