Take a Hike! At any age, it helps you feel good and possibly live longer

There’s nothing like a good walk.

Recently, a few friends of mine from my apartment complex on Metropolitan Avenue in Kew Gardens, Queens decided to visit our neighbor’s new restaurant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We went by car. It is about 12 or 13 miles down Metropolitan Avenue, going through about a half dozen Queens and Brooklyn neighborhoods.

After a wonderful meal at a great new restaurant with an emphasis on Texas cuisine—I highly recommend it. Our neighbors and friends Treva and John have created a wonderful little eatery called the Beehive Oven on Second Street in Williamsburg (Please see note at the end)—-I decided on something that has come natural to me for most of my life: I walked home. It was delightful. I saw and experienced many things that I never could have experienced if I rode back in a car.

This idea reminded me of a recent trip. I thought of a recent trip to beautiful Espana. I would not have enjoyed Madrid and Toledo nearly as much if I had never taken plenty of paseos.

Brooklyn After Dark

Williamsburg, which in my youth some 50 years ago was a slum that seemed restricted to only the very poor and courageous Hasidim, has experienced a remarkable turnaround. On my walk back I saw many thriving businesses, among them clubs and restaurants. There were tons of Yuppies out on the town on this Friday night.

If I closed my eyes, I might have mistaken it for an upscale Manhattan neighborhood. Indeed, I felt as though I was in an elegant neighborhood on the other side of the Williamsburg Bridge, possibly Chelsea, Greenwich Village or the trendy East Side.

En route home, I walked through Williamsburg and several other Brooklyn neighborhoods, such as Bushwick and Ridgewood. These are areas that are now thriving but were once identified with urban decay and hopelessness. Certainly, I’ve read about these changes over the past few years, but there was nothing as satisfying as walking through these areas on my way back home to Kew Gardens. This experience was something I could never get by driving. I made my walk home in less than two hours.

My wife, the ever comely Suzanne Hall, and friends, who left an hour and a half after me because I didn’t stick around for dessert, only beat me home by 20 minutes. I walked at my usual quick pace—when I don’t carry anything, I walk at about six miles an hour pace. I could feel my heart beating and I enjoyed myself immensely.

The Simple Life

My walk reminded me of something vital in enjoying life: A simple thing like a walk in a nice place can be wonderful. People overlook it because it costs nothing and seems so commonplace. There’s no need for an elaborate exercise program that many people often take up and often give up in frustration. Walking–especially a good brisk one—is simple, yet fabulous. It can physically and mentally rejuvenate you. It’s not only good for your heart, it can be great for your mental health.

Walking has a way of clearing your mind, especially if you walk in a pleasant neighborhood or possibly a park, such as Forest Park which is near to our apartment complex. Forest Park was one of the last great projects of the city of Brooklyn in the late 19th century (Brooklyn, along with Queens, was unfortunately, swallowed by the city of New York in 1897). Walking also has at least one other terrific benefit: When you walk you are not driving.

I believe car addiction is a leading cause of heart attacks and strokes. Certainly, I agree that many people need to drive for work or other reasons. However, my experience of owning a car—-in my 20s and 30s I owned one because I worked in rural areas for small publications and radio stations—-is that people often become overly dependent on them.

“Do We Have to Walk?”

They will often begrudge walking an extra few steps in a parking lot (“Can’t you get us closer to the stores?” I have often been told when I was behind the wheel).

Possibly because cars are so expensive, one often starts to overuse them to justify their costs. They become more than transportation for their owners; they become a status symbol. Car owners often say their cars are a kind of shadow of themselves. Indeed, I remember a friend of my wife’s mother, the ever wonderful Sue Hall, who drove her here and said of her car, “I consider my car an extension of myself.”

Many people tacitly or explicitly agree with that sentiment. But is it a coincidence that, as more and more Americans own cars, that more and more of us are suffering from obesity, which leads to a plethora of heart related illnesses?

I think not.

It is not just the love of the car that endangers our health. It is what comes with the car: You sit and drive for hours on end. It is part of the sedentary lifestyle that is a danger to many us. Drive a lot of hours in a day, combine that with hours in front of a tube along with eight hours at work and guess what?

The day is almost over and you have hardly exercised at all. And a sedentary lifestyle often leads not only to overeating, but bad eating. The more of the idiot box you watch, the more commercials you’ll see for junk food. By contrast, the more you exercise, the more it acts as an appetite suppressant. It will increase your need for water, but somehow it seems to reduce your hunger.

I’ve had the experience of great hunger before I took a walk. Then, after returning home, I was still hungry, but not nearly as hungry as when I began. It may not be logical, but it is nevertheless true. And is it also a coincidence that so many historical figures who lived to a ripe old age—Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Harry Truman, Victorian prime ministers Palmerston and Gladstone—were all great walkers? Again, I think not.

Training with Bobby Orr

By the way, when exercising I go by the practices of some of the best athletes in the world: hockey players. They play a sport in which teams are allowed to change “on the fly,” as the game is going on.

Hockey players skated furiously in shifts of between thirty to ninety seconds—-it was said that the great Bobby Orr dazzled everyone because he could go for two minutes before coming back to the bench—-and come back to the bench huffing and puffing. What are they drinking on the bench? It’s not wretched soda or coffee. They’re drinking water or sometimes energy drinks. I don’t trust the latter, but I know that water is the sure proof way of replenishing bodily fluids.

So take that water bottle with you if you’re taking a long walk. And enjoy yourself. There’s a lot of the world you’ll never really see until you’re a pie.

Note: I didn’t get a free meal from my friends. We paid full price, which means I reserve the right to say if the food was bad. The food and service were the opposite: They were excellent. I lapped down a fabulous chicken stew and salad and my wife couldn’t get enough of their wonderful biscuits. GB

About The Author

Gregory Bresiger

Gregory Bresiger is an independent business journalist from Queens, New York. His Personal Finance articles have appeared in publications such as The New York Post & Financial Advisor Magazine. He is the author of the eBooks “Personal Finance For People Who Hate Personal Finance” and “MoneySense”.