Take a Hike; It’s Good for the Soul

There’s a monologue at the start of an old “Seinfeld” episode that struck me when I heard it, and which I still like:“To me, going to the health club, you see all these people and they’re working out,

Published May 16, 2014 5:00 AM
4 min read


HIKE-THThere’s a monologue at the start of an old “Seinfeld” episode that struck me when I heard it, and which I still like:
“To me, going to the health club, you see all these people and they’re working out,


By Lee Sandford

B15-SANDFORD-HIKE-GROUPThere’s a monologue at the start of an old “Seinfeld” episode that struck me when I heard it, and which I still like:

“To me, going to the health club, you see all these people and they’re working out, and they’re training and they’re getting in shape but the strange thing is nobody is really getting in shape for anything. The only reason that you’re getting in shape is so you can get through the workout. So we’re working out, so that we’ll be in shape, for when we have to do our exercise. This is the whole thing.”

It is far more satisfying to be training for something, with a goal in mind. It makes your workouts more focused and efficient. If you’re training for a road race your regimen inevitably involves much pounding the pavements, and time in the gym is best spent strengthening your stabilizing muscles to prevent against injury. Even if your goal is more vanity-related, like making the dreaded summer unlayering slightly less daunting, you’d still do well to be focused in your routine: on aerobic activity for calorie burn and overall weight loss, and low-weight, high-repetition resistance training for toning up the bits that may have gotten “soft” over the winter.

The most pragmatic training of all is functional training, which is defined as a class of exercise which involves training the body for the activities performed in daily life. That’s a good goal for anyone to have — to be fit for everyday life.

The ubiquitous squat is a classic functional exercise, training the body for the daily activity of going from seated to standing. A “favorite” (favorite as in we love to hate it) variation I use when training people is to go from sitting on a chair-height surface to standing, but on one leg only. And my oft-used response as to why the drill is helpful is that if we can stand up on one leg, when we’re old ladies standing up on two legs will always feel easy!

If functional training is the ultimate practical exercise regime, surely walking must be the ultimate functional exercise choice. I like the American Heart Association’s opening line on their website www.startwalkingnow.org, which is “there are countless physical activities out there, but walking has the lowest dropout rate of them all.” They list the numerous benefits of walking for heart health, bone health, blood pressure, reducing the risk of cancer, and one that I got to experience lately “enhance mental well-being.”

A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to go back to my native Scotland and walk 60 miles of the one-hundred mile walking trail through Scotland called “The West Highland Way.” Five years ago I did the whole thing and found it an amazing experience. The time in your own head, pushing your body mile after mile, in spectacular scenery, was actually quite spiritual. I enjoyed every step.

hike-pathIt took us four days. The first day was 20 miles, slow going due to tricky terrain, and a group of three of us. Day 2, we were a man down due to Achilles pain, so my sister-in-law and I knocked out twelve miles in four hours, and we were pretty pleased with that performance. On the third day, more people joined us, so a group of eight tackled the well-named “Devils Staircase,” a steep climb straight up the side of a mountain and a long slow descent on the other side. On the last day we had to cover sixteen miles through the also aptly named “Great Pass” which involved a couple of long, very steep climbs.

For various reasons, including lack of time, I decided to go that last day alone and set off an hour before the rest of my group. The notes said the 16 miles would take 7 to 8 hours and I had to do it in 6 to make my bus back to Glasgow. So I set out at a strong, pretty fast pace and just kept going, fueling after two hours with a Kit Kat on the move. I didn’t see another soul for miles, when a young European couple was coming from the other direction. I asked them what time they had left Fort William, my destination, and they said about an hour before, which meant I could make it to my destination in four hours instead of my target six!

I was so giddy I broke out into a slow run whenever the terrain allowed and made the journey in exactly four hours. I’ve run a couple of marathons, more than a dozen half-marathons, and numerous shorter races, but that day’s walking gave me a bigger sense of accomplishment than I’ve felt in any physical endeavor. I had a tremendous sense of physical achievement and that my soul had been nourished by time alone and some introspection in the most beautiful scenery I could imagine.

Never underestimate walking as an effective exercise — it truly is the ultimate functional training exercise. It’s as hard as you make it, which can be pretty darn challenging if you’re trying to make a bus, and it’s good for mind, body, and soul. I defy anyone to feel in a worse mood after a brisk walk outdoors!



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