I walk more than most people, have done so for a long time, and I prefer it. If I could, I would walk everywhere I go. A quick study of Amazon.com books on walking reveals that many see walking as a means of losing weight or gaining fitness. It does that very well. I have reached a point in life where some of my other habits and my genetics are catching up with me. Doctors tell me my lifelong habit of walking makes my illnesses much less severe than they would otherwise be. The only way I ever lost significant weight was through walking to work regularly. I guess this could be done on a treadmill, but not for me.
So walking is good for my physical health, but it can give so much more.
A walk around a neighborhood shows me more about it than any number of drives through, rides on transit, or even bicycle rides. If I stop and talk to people, that works even better. People seem to me to be friendlier one-on-one on foot (or in wheelchairs, if they need them.) Asking for relevant directions is one way I start a conversation. People will usually do their best to help, and you can notice whether they seem willing to talk. Remember, everyone is going about their lives, and some have no spare time for strangers. All the same, many will share their experiences, impressions, and plenty of their “selves,” giving you a great experience if you are ready for it. Having done this is important to my belief that most people are either friendly or neutral to most others, not hostile or predatory.
Walking is also a great way to learn about nature. Hobbies and interests such as birding, understanding weather, or knowledge of plants can all result from walks and become part of them. This broadens a person, which is a great thing in itself, and it can be done in a surprisingly broad range of places.
Those are by no means all of the benefits. Walking in natural settings, especially alone, is a spiritual experience akin to meditation. (I define “natural settings” loosely; anywhere with trees, grass, sand, or cacti will do.) I cannot describe this in logic. Once I get my stride, it at once puts me in touch with the world around me and helps me to a spiritual place removed from whatever chores, irritations, or worries I have carried with me.
All one needs to walk is a pair of good shoes, socks to match, and any clothing appropriate to the weather. Walking programs, backpacking equipment, and many other items may come later, depending on what direction you wish to take, if any. Most of my walking is ordinary: walks to do errands or attend meetings, short jaunts to or on our “multi-purpose” trails, and like that. Of course, larger possibilities abound. I just bought a Kindle e-book called How to Walk Across America: Getting Started With Long Distance Walking, by Angela Murray (44 pages, $0.99 on Amazon.com). Who knows? Maybe I’ll take a walk one of these days and just keep going.
Any number of other books are available. Peter Jenkins’ A Walk Across America (http://www.amazon.com/Walk-Across-America-Peter-Jenkins/dp/006095955X) is one good starting point. Another is Thoreau’s essay Walking (48 pages, free on Amazon as an ebook). There are many more.