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Experience April/May 2023

Something for Every Body

Seth D Kramer


  • Walking brings joy and benefits, particularly in retirement.
  • The author shares personal experiences of taking up walking after a sedentary career as a lawyer and the positive impact it has had on his life.
  • Walking is simple and accessible; it's an exercise for people of all fitness levels.
Something for Every Body
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One of the great pleasures of being retired is finally getting the opportunity to become more physically fit.

I wasn’t very athletic when I was growing up. As a result, I never developed the habit of enjoying a sport like golf, tennis, or handball. And practicing law for nearly 40 years doesn’t lend itself to a lot of physical activity. Most lawyering is done sitting—at your desk, at a deposition, and even (mostly) in court.

The law is a very sedentary profession. All those years of lawyering basically train you to be a couch potato.

So in retirement, I wanted to do some physical activity that didn’t require much athletic prowess and had a low bar to entry. Walking met both of those needs.

The solitude of walking

I’m fortunate to live in a coastal community in Southern California. The weather here is conducive to walking practically year round. I can take walks on the beach or low-impact hikes in the Santa Monica Mountains—both of which are within minutes of my home.

There’s a lot of research to suggest that walking is a good social activity, with many advantages when done with a group. I, however, like to walk by myself. I find the solitude refreshing and invigorating.

While I walk, I often listen to podcasts. Narrative serial podcasts are my favorite. I try to find podcasts that are about an hour long, and I use the length of the podcast to correspond to the length of the walk.

If I’m in a more wistful mood, I’ll listen to some classic baby boomer rock and roll—familiar songs I know by heart. This music doesn’t require a lot of concentration, so my mind wanders and I make all kinds of connections and extrapolations. As a result of walking, I’ve become both a true crime afficionado and a Steely Dan superfan.

However, if I’m in a more mindful mode, I can walk and meditate at the same time, a practice called walking meditation. Although it’s based on the ancient Buddhist practice called kinhin, it has been popularized for easy mass consumption.

Numerous websites offer formulas for easy adaptation of the practice. My favorite is, which lays out a simple, straightforward six-point plan for a daily 10-minute mindful walk.

Building on a keystone

So I go on walks—long and short. Although I try to walk daily, it’s tough sometimes to get motivated to start a walk. I still have that lawyer sense that I’ll be wasting a “valuable” hour.

But completing the walk always lifts my mood. I want to make the daily walk into what Charles Duhigg refers to as a keystone habit—something you routinely do that gives you a positive feeling of accomplishment.

Apparently, there’s some real science to back up this feeling. According to Art Kramer, director of the Center for Cognitive and Brain Health at Northeastern University, there are definitive benefits from walking, both cognitively and in overall brain health.

“There are a multitude of cognitive benefits for memory, reasoning, problem solving, linguistic skills, but also brain-health benefits in terms of the structure and function of your brain,” asserts Kramer (no relation to me).

And part of the beauty of walking is that it doesn’t take much walking to get these benefits. Although the American Heart Association famously recommends 10,000 steps a day (about five miles of walking), Kramer has a slightly different take. “Whatever you can do will improve your fitness,” he says. “Something as simple as parking at the end of the parking lot rather than closest to the store will help.”

This was a practice my mother always employed. Working full time as a nursery school director, such short strolls were her main form of exercise. And it served her well, so much so that in her 70s, after she retired, she was able to successfully complete a walking tour of England and Scotland.

Motion is medicine

Numerous studies, articles, and websites list the many benefits of walking. For example says walking improves heart health, lowers blood sugar, reduces joint pain, increases general immunity, and improves your mental health. This improved mental health, as Kramer points out, creates positive feelings.

After walking, people subjectively feel “that their memory gets better, they’re able to process information more efficiently and more quickly,” Kramer says. “Perhaps they’re able to make decisions more quickly.”

Scientific evidence backs this up. “We look at the brain-health benefits using various imaging techniques, including magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI; fMRI, which is functional magnetic resonance imaging; and various other techniques,” he says.

These include objective measurement and standardized tests, all of which support the idea that walking has a positive effect on both brain structure and brain function. As for the first step in getting these benefits, Kramer says, “movement is critical.”

And this simple fact works for everyone. As 99-year-old Roy Englert told The New York Times while competing in the 2022 National Senior Games in Miramar, Fla., “My consistent advice is to keep moving, keep moving, keep moving.”

Even “shorter bouts” of walking can make a difference, Kramer says. An easy way to do this is to incorporate these into your daily routine. As Emmanuel Stamatakis, a professor at The University of Sydney, told the Washington Post, “Instead of taking the elevator, opt for the stairs. As long as you go up more than one or two flights, that will count as vigorous activity.”

This recommendation is bolstered by anecdotal evidence. Legend has it that movie star Cary Grant stayed in shape by always avoiding elevators and taking the stairs.

If the shoes fit

There’s no reason to not start getting the health benefits of walking, even if you’re still working. According to Kramer, there’s “data to show that people who start out as couch potatoes can become a lot more fit simply by walking.”

All the related health benefits start flowing. There’s also plenty of evidence that suggests that simply walking will do the trick, Kramer says. “People often ask me what exercise they should do to reap these benefits,” he reports. “My answer is, ‘What will you do?’ Because if you don’t enjoy doing whatever it is, you’re not going to do it.”

You can even start slowly and build up. A good plan, according to Kramer, would be to start out taking very short walk breaks. “It’s a great way to fit it in during the day when you don’t have a lot of time,” he notes.

And as I mentioned, one of the beauties of walking is that it requires no special equipment. All you need, as Kramer says, is a pair of good, supportive sneakers. It helps if you choose footwear you can wear often so you’re prepared for those spur-of-the-moment short walks or stair climbs when the situation presents itself.

“I’m a hiker,” Kramer says. “So I often wear hiking boots around. I wear them to work, and they work for me just fine.”

Of course, check with your doctor. But for most of us, there’s no reason not to start right away. Incorporating walking into your life while you’re still working will serve you well when you transition to retired life.

A plethora of websites offer tips to kick start your journey. Just search “ways to get motivated to start walking” and you’ll get lots of hits. For example, lists seven ways to get motivated to walk, such as getting a walking buddy, setting a goal, and changing up the route.

So it’s an exciting proposition. And to paraphrase a Chinese proverb: The journey of walking starts with a single step.