By Rachael Long
Fifty-five stairs lead from Spanish Street to the historic Cape Girardeau Common Pleas Courthouse. Sixty-one, if you count the last six steps leading up to the structure’s glass doors.
That number has become permanently stamped in my brain because each time I walk those steps, I count them. It’s a distraction to the strain of exercise and an escape from my bedroom-turned home office.
During a walk, I find it is easier to process complicated thoughts and feelings as if the momentum of the body keeps the brain from getting stuck — a tool that has become especially important during the pandemic. And whether for fresh air or to avoid cabin fever, more people than ever have been out walking, bicycling or running.
In the parking lot facing my apartment, I have seen people meet to take socially distant walks, perform exercise drills or even to ride skateboards; a sense of community is deeply rooted within all of us. We long to be in good company, and our muscles long to stretch. Walking can lend us a unique perspective of the world if we are open to it.
In one of my recent walking adventures, I purchased a lemon balm plant from Titus at Spanish Street Farmacy. It’s just down the street from my apartment, and I sometimes like to have breakfast there on the weekends. While having coffee or meeting friends, I have often glanced out to the plant display situated on the sidewalk in front of the building and wished for a green thumb. So on my walk that day, I decided there was no time like the present to become a plant mom. With my leafy friend in hand, I headed back toward Broadway. I was near the Trinity Lutheran Church parking lot when I saw my hairstylist, Carrie, who happened to be taking a walk at the same time with her family. We exchanged a lovely, if brief, conversation and then went our separate ways. Neither of us mentioned the state of my hair, thank you.
On a morning stroll several weeks ago, I had another lovely conversation with a friend. The morning was young, and Baristas Coffee Bar — where my friend worked — had just opened. I woke up early to catch the sunrise and decided to take a walk before heading home. So when I met my friend Emily outside on the sidewalk, no one was around but the two of us.
Even so, from opposing sidewalks, we talked — or shouted — about the little things: new developments in our personal lives, how much we missed being around our friends and how beautiful our city looked in the early light of a new day. It was the kind of conversation that lifted my spirits, even without my realizing it.
Later, I continued my walk down the street and eventually passed by the large, glass windows of Shivelbine Music and stopped to look inside. I remembered with surprising clarity the trips my family and I took to the music store when I was young — and as it happens, we always walked there. But on that day, I thought back to the first time I purchased sheet music for my violin.
My older sister had played the violin for years before me, and when the time came for me to choose an instrument to play in school, I wanted something my sister could help me learn. As I stood in front of the music store, I laughed to myself, realizing she had only ever taught me to play one song: “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” In hindsight, I think I would have preferred to learn the cello — but what a blessing, I realized, to have played an instrument at all.
What a blessing it is to be able to walk for a change of scenery or a moment to process difficult feelings.
It’s funny how ordinary moments become blessings when we pause to reflect — and it’s easy to reflect at a walking pace. Whether you count blessings or stairs, I hope you find peace on the journey.
Walk on: a few fun things to know
In a recent Healthbeat article, experts at Harvard Medical School detailed five surprising benefits of walking:
- Walking can counteract the effects of weight-promoting genes. A Harvard study found the effects of obesity-promoting genes were cut in half among study participants who walked briskly for about an hour each day.
- Walking helps tame a sweet tooth. A pair of studies from a public research university in South West England found that a 15-minute walk can curb cravings for chocolate and reduce the amount of chocolate a person may eat in stressful situations. And according to the latest research, walking can reduce cravings and the intake of sugary snacks.
- Walking reduces the risk of breast cancer. An American Cancer Society study on walking found women who walked seven or more hours a week had a 14% lower risk of breast cancer than those who walked three hours or fewer per week. Walking provided this protection even for women with breast cancer risk factors such as being overweight or using supplemental hormones.
- Walking eases joint pain. Several studies have found that walking reduces arthritis-related pain and that walking five to six miles a week can even prevent the formation of arthritis. Walking protects the joints by lubricating them and strengthening the muscles that support them.
- Walking boosts immune function. Walking can offer protection during cold and flu season. A study found men and women who walked at least five days a week for at least 20 minutes a day had 43% fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less. And if they did get sick, it was for a shorter duration with milder symptoms.