Today I went for a walk on my lunch break. These early fall days have provided the best afternoon weather, and it’s all I can do to resist the woods outside my office window. Today, instead of scarfing down my lunch quickly at my desk (while simultaneously answering emails and phone calls) I decided to take a quick walk down to Floyds Fork.
The crisp air was perfect and the sound of crickets filled the air. A few leaves have already begun to turn and some lay on the path. I followed the trail from the Park Administration Building to where it connects with the Prairie Preserve Trail. The wildflowers along the path bloomed in purples, whites, and yellows.
It was fairly quiet, due to it being the middle of the day, and my mind was able to drift from the issues at my desk and just take in the splendor all around me.
It’s rare that I drive home from work without spending the entire commute thinking about the day’s work, and that of tomorrow. Sometimes I even carry that into the house. So what was it about this rare afternoon walk that was so freeing for my brain? Clearly there were work items to think about, and to-do’s to add to my list. But sitting here now I realize I left all that behind for my 20 minutes in Pope Lick Park.
The walk wasn’t long. Soon the trail connected with the Louisville Loop at the Pedestrian Bridge over Floyds Fork and I stopped at the bridge’s center to watch the Fork flow beneath me. This is one of my favorite spots along the Loop.
That might have been my only thought at the time.
When my eyes had had their fill, I turned back along the Loop and followed it toward John Floyd Fields. On my right I saw the woods open to the new picnic area that’s been installed along the Loop, parallel to the sycamores stretching over Floyds Fork. I ventured off-road to take in the shady area.
Nice. Maybe next time I’ll bring my lunch and sit here for a few.
Back on the Loop I ran into an older gentleman, walking stick in hand, pacing right along next to me. We said hello and remarked at how nice the day was. He said he’d been on the Big Beech Trail, and has been recovering from a stroke by taking walks in the park with his wife. What a great idea, I thought.
When I walk downtown or even in my neighborhood my pace is often hurried, racing from one destination to the next. I even kind of pride myself on being a swift walker. But today, I didn’t mind that my pace was right alongside this recovering gentleman.
Eventually I outpaced him though, as he stopped to rest a minute. Ahead I could see the Fitness Circle- my normal route back to the office. This time though, the lush green of the grass fields called my name and I decided to cross them instead of connecting with the Circle. The path less traveled we’ll call it.
One field was occupied by four young men playing a friendly pick-up game of soccer but the rest were bare and wide-open. A few young mothers and their strollers circled the fields on the trail. I looked up to enjoy the big blue sky above me, the puffy clouds moving slowly past.
Before I knew it I was back at the office. A short walk, but it paid in dividends. I felt refreshed, focused, and my blood was definitely pumping. I turned the heat off in the building and flipped my overhead fan on. With a large glass of water I set back to my work.
A sense of renewed enthusiasm and focus came over me.
Call it serendipity, but that’s when I came across a New Yorker article titled, “Why Walking Helps You Think.” Funny coincidence, I thought, so I clicked to read. The article talks about the way a walk pumps blood and oxygen to your whole body, including your brain—improving memory and attention. This was not news to me. Other than stopping to read this article, I was well on my way to a productive afternoon.
But then, as if I needed this article to validate my refreshed feeling, another benefit of my walk was articulated:
“Because we don’t have to devote much conscious effort to the act of walking, our attention is free to wander—to overlay the world before us with a parade of images from the mind’s theatre.”
This leads to innovative and insightful thinking, enhancing creativity. I’ll take all the creativity I can get!
Where we walk matters too, according to studies cited in the article:
“A small but growing collection of studies suggests that spending time in green spaces—gardens, parks, forests—can rejuvenate the mental resources that man-made environments deplete.”
I often leave work feeling drained, most of which I attribute to staring at my computer screen and answering phone calls, emails, and sitting through meetings all day. When I go home it’s not always much better, with errands, texts, and the TV. A walk through the park offers the opposite of that overstimulation, a welcomed (and sometimes necessary) opportunity.
Along a tree-lined path my mind is free to drift, and to experience what my other senses are picking up as well. I’m not just seeing and hearing, but also now picking up on smells and the texture of the path below me. I guess you could say I’m much more present in the moment.
I hadn’t even finished the article when the idea for this blog post came to me. I know my experience is not unique, but I feel very privileged to be able to stroll through the park when I need a break. It truly feels good for the soul. By the time I’d read the article’s last paragraph, I knew I was meant to write this today, probably all thanks to my walk.
“Perhaps the most profound relationship between walking, thinking, and writing reveals itself at the end of a stroll, back at the desk. There, it becomes apparent that writing and walking are extremely similar feats, equal parts physical and mental. When we choose a path through a city or forest, our brain must survey the surrounding environment, construct a mental map of the world, settle on a way forward, and translate that plan into a series of footsteps.”
About the Author
Ellen Doolittle Oost
Ellen has been the Director of Development at 21st Century Parks since April of 2015. In this role she oversees fundraising functions for The Parklands, including the annual fund/membership campaign, corporate sponsorships, supporting the Board of Directors, leading major fundraising events, and seeking grant and foundational support. It’s her goal to create multiple compelling opportunities for donors to support The Parklands, a donor-supported public park that does not receive tax dollar support on an annual basis but has four world-class parks free and open to the public 365 days a year.
Although fairly new to this role, Ellen is intimately familiar with The Parklands as she spent the previous 3 years as the Communications Manager in charge of public relations, social media, community outreach and marketing for the parks. Before joining 21st Century Parks she spent three years with Louisville-based advertising agency Doe-Anderson. Her background also includes marketing and account service roles at Anheuser-Busch InBev, PriceWeber advertising agency, and direct mail marketing at Traffic Builders, Inc. Ellen is a graduate of Marietta College where she studied advertising, public relations and marketing and played volleyball. In her spare time she enjoys hiking, camping, and traveling with her two mutts and her husband Andrew.