Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Keep walking

The scientific evidence just keeps coming. The New York Times Well Blog today reports another study on the benefits of walking.

Back in 1997, Bruce Chatwin, a great walker, published the essay, "It's a Nomad Nomad World" in Anatomy of Restlessness. A longish quotation:

"In one of his gloomier moments Pascal said that all man’s unhappiness stemmed from a single cause, his inability to remain quietly in a single room. 'Notre nature', he wrote, 'es dan le mouvement… La seule chose qui nos console de nos misères est le divertissement'. Diversion. Distraction. Fantasy. Change of fashion, food, love and landscape. We need them as the air we breathe. Without change our brains and bodies rot. The man who sits quietly in a shuttered room is likely to be mad, tortured by hallucinations and introspection.

"Some American brain specialists took encephalograh reading of travellers. They found that changes of scenery and awareness of the passage of seasons through the year stimulated the rhythms of the brain, contributing to a sense of well­being and an active purpose in life. Monotonous surroundings and tedious regular activities wove patterns wich produce fatigue, nervous disorders, apathy, self­ disgust and violent reactions. Hardly surprising, then, than a generation cushioned from the cold by central heating, from the heat by air­conditioning, carted in aseptic transports from one identical house or hotel to the another, should feel the need for journeys of mind and body, for pep pills or tranquillisers, or for the cathartic journeys of sex, music and dance. We spend far too much time in shuttered rooms.

"I prefer the cosmopolitan scepticism of Montaigne. He saw travel as a 'profitable exercise'; the mind is constantly stimulated by observing new and unknown things… No proposition astonish me, no belief offends me, however much opposed to my own… The savages who roast and eat the bodies of their dead do not scandalise me so much as those who persecute the living.” Custom, he said, and set attitudes of mind, dulled the senses and hid the true nature of things. Man is naturally curious.

"'He who does not travel does not know the value of men', said Ib’n Battuta, the indefatigable Arab wanderer who strolled from Tangier to China and back for the sake of it. But travel does not merely broaden the mind. It makes the mind, Our early explorations are the raw materials of our intelligence, and, on the day I write this, I see that the NSPCC suggests that children penned up in “high­rise” flats are in danger of retarded mental development. Why did not nobody think of it before?"