Why advice written 20 years ago feels more necessary than ever in these mean-minded days
“Get out now” are the first three words of Outside Lies Magic, a book published almost 20 years ago by the Harvard academic John Stilgoe, but that feels more necessary than ever, in these mean-minded days of Trump and Brexit and trolling and shrivelling attention spans. It’s common enough advice: we’re always being told to exercise more and sit less, to go running to combat depression, to head to the hills for a mental-health boost. But such activities leave Stilgoe aghast. “Do not jog,” he writes. “Do not run. Forget about blood pressure.” Nor is he urging travel to wild, awe-inspiring locations. Outside Lies Magic is about the ordinary outdoors: the fire hydrants, telegraph poles, electrical substations and scratty verges outside your door right now. It’s about “probing and poking at ordinary space”. Stilgoe thinks we’ve forgotten how to notice – and need “formal education in just going for a walk”.
In one obvious sense, you’ll miss the magic of outside if you spend all weekend watching Netflix or glued to your phone, reinforcing the sad notion that excitement is always somewhere you’re not. But, in a less obvious sense, many outdoor pursuits miss that magic, too. Training for a marathon, cycling to work or counting your steps with a fitness tracker, you’re using the environment for your own ends, noticing only what’s needed to fulfil your predetermined goal. In his courses on “the art of exploration”, Stilgoe appals hard-charging Ivy Leaguers by refusing to distribute a schedule: “Confronted by a professor who explains that schedules produce a desire, sometimes an obsession, to ‘get through the material’, they grow uneasy. They like to get through the material.”
Instead, he wants them to let the material get to them. Look closely, and peel back layers of a city’s history by inspecting the worn paint on shop fronts, the footprints of former railway lines. There’s a whole chapter on the meaning of fences. “The built environment is… a document in which one layer of writing has been scraped off and another one applied”, but where you can make out the older traces.
Excerpt from The Guardian Online, read the full article here
Walking for health
Brisk walking as part of an exercise programme is an ideal way to:
What level of walking is needed to benefit health?
- Reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis and obesity and gives you more energy to do the things you enjoy in life
- Lowers the level of ‘bad’ cholesterol in your blood. Studies have shown that regular walkers have less LDL cholesterol – the fat in the blood clearly linked with heart disease – and more HDL cholesterol which is better for you
- Tones up your muscles and strengthens your bones
- Helps to control your weight
You can start slowly and build up gently. If you can only walk for a couple of minutes and then you need to rest that’s fine. Ideally you need to include about 30 minutes of moderate paced walking per day if possible.
- Always maintain good posture and body alignment – the head should stay as a natural extension of the spine with chin parallel to the ground and eyes focused on the horizon. The chest is lifted with shoulders back and relaxed and with the arms swinging naturally by your sides.
- Maintain a natural stride and walk with a rolling heel-to-toe foot action
- It is strongly advised not to walk alone but to arrange to go out with a friend or partner. If you do walk alone take a mobile phone or leave a note of where you are going, what time you left and what time you expect to be back
- Be cautious if wearing a head set because it can make you less aware of what is going on around you
- If you decide walking is something that interests you, then investment in a good pair of hiking boots would make sense
- Carry some water to stop dehydration especially if the weather is hot
- Start with short easy walks – perhaps one, two or three miles
- Work your way up to something more adventurous, perhaps increasing the walk length to five miles over easy terrain. From this base you can then build up your experience and set out on routes that require more effort