Google “famous people who walked,” and you may be surprised at how many of the world’s most creative minds considered walking fundamental to their very well being. Unless you’re an EverWalker, that is, and you already fully appreciate the essential joys and benefits of daily walking.
Almost 2500 years ago, Aristotle, the student of Plato (himself a walker) and tutor of Alexander the Great, conducted his lectures while walking through his school in Athens. Both he and his students called themselves the peripatetics (Greek for meanderers) because Aristotle felt that he thought and taught best while moving. Thank goodness he did, as we are still indebted to Aristotle for so much that continues to influence writers, scholars, and critical thinkers the world over.
Cicero, widely regarded as the greatest orator of Ancient Rome, also believed walking necessary to stimulate the mind. Fortunately, some of his famous words have come down to us, including this exquisite quote about the gifts of walking in nature: “In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks. For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.”
More recently, composer Ludwig van Beethoven, who worked from sunrise through mid-afternoon, famously took frequent breaks to walk. One biographer referred to these walks as “a bee swarming out to collect honey.” Following his midday repast, Beethoven would then head out for a vigorous long promenade that took the rest of the day. He believed these walks (rain or shine) to be essential to his creativity — and so would carry pen and sheets of paper with him. Try listening to one of Beethoven’s symphonies on your next walk and imagine its creation.
Similarly, Pyotr Tchaikovsky only composed after his morning walk — and then he took another after lunch. He believed he needed to walk to stay healthy. Some mocked this, including his brother, who wrote: “His observance of this rule was pedantic and superstitious, as though if he returned five minutes early, he would fall ill.” Be that as it may, his music reaped the rewards of his meanderings. And so have we!
Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau felt that the most significant benefit of walking was moving “at your own time” — doing as much or as little as you wish. He wrote: “To travel on foot is to travel in the fashion of Thales, Plato, and Pythagoras. I find it hard to understand how a philosopher can bring himself to travel in any other way; how he can tear himself from the study of the wealth which lies before his eyes and beneath his feet.” He adds that those who ride in well-padded carriages are always “gloomy, fault-finding, or sick,” while walkers are “always merry, light-hearted, and delighted with everything.”
Poet William Wordsworth is said to have walked nearly 175,000 miles during his life. He saw walking as “indivisible” from the act of writing poetry. Both were rhythmic; he walked to write. He wrote some of his most famous poems about his walks, when he wandered “lonely as a cloud.”
Ironically, although Charles Dickens is regarded as one of the most prolific and brilliant novelists of all time, he found writing incredibly stressful and anxiety-provoking. To ease his stress, Dickens took twenty to thirty-mile long speed walks in the middle of the night. He walked so much and for so long that his friends thought him mentally ill. Dickens wrote, “If I could not walk far and fast, I think I should just explode and perish.”
Another Charles — Darwin — would walk the same trail every day with his dog, Polly. On these walks, he kicked the stones on the path while he mulled over research data. The tougher the problem, the more stones, allowing him to assess its difficulty level. One can only wonder how many stones got kicked as he worked out evolution and natural selection!
Henry David Thoreau saw himself as a saunterer. In his fantastic essay called Walking, he reveals that the word’s origin came from “the idle people who roved about the country… under the pretense of going à la Sainte Terre,” or the Holy Land. For Thoreau himself, walking through nature was his pilgrimage, albeit without a destination. The beauty of nature would famously become his religion and raison d’etre. He wrote, “I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit… What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?”
German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche also believed that he had to walk to write, rigorously sticking to his schedule of an 11 AM walk, notebook in hand. It is thought that The Wanderer and His Shadow was written entirely while walking.
In his essay, The Philosophy of Travel, George Santayana questioned whether the privilege of “locomotion” given to animals and humans is the “key to intelligence”. He pondered: “The roots of vegetables (which Aristotle says are their mouths) attach them fatally to the ground, and they are condemned like leeches to suck up whatever sustenance may flow to them at the particular spot where they happen to be stuck. Close by, perhaps, there may be a richer soil or a more sheltered or sunnier nook but they cannot migrate, nor have even the eyes or imagination by which to picture the enviable neighbouring lot.”
Another brilliant philosophic mind, Soren Kierkegaard, walked and wrote every single day. His mornings were devoted to writing, after which he’d walk the streets of Copenhagen, working through new ideas. Then it was back to writing — at a standing desk! He wrote this about the connection between walking and his work “Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Every day, I walk myself into a state of well-being & walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. But by sitting still, & the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill. Thus if one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right.”
For naturalist John Muir, walking was how he fell in love with nature — leaping “tirelessly from flower to flower” and chasing waterfall. He felt most at home in the woods — as his writings on nature, which brought awareness of the natural world to generations — clearly show.
Albert Einstein believed nothing better than a long walk on the beach to help a person think and work out complex problems. For centuries, scientific studies have shown that spending time near an ocean promotes a sense of well-being and safety.
And finally, for all of us who now walk everywhere guided by our Apple Watches, Steve Jobs always walked and worked, believing that meetings away from an office allowed for better concentration and creativity.
And lest you think that only men walked and wrote or composed, let us remember that his-story has been largely written by and for men. Thus it is only in the past 150 years that women have found the small freedom of walking at will.
Nineteenth-century Russian painter Marie Bashkirtseff longed “for the freedom to go out alone: to go, to come, to sit on a bench in the Jardin des Tuileries, and especially to go to the Luxembourg, to look at the decorated store windows, to enter churches and museums, and to stroll in the old streets in the evenings. This is what I envy. Without this freedom, one cannot become a great artist.”
Less than a century later, English writer Virginia Woolf found that freedom — which led to some of her greatest works. The idea for To the Lighthouse came to her on an afternoon walk. She wrote to a friend: “I cannot get my sense of unity and coherency and all that makes me wish to write the Lighthouse etc. unless I am perpetually stimulated.” by “plung[ing] into London, between tea and dinner, and walk[ing] and walk[ing], reviving my fires, in the city, in some wretched slum, where I peep in at the doors of public houses.”
Have we sparked your creative juices or your urge to get out. Then try walking the EverWalk Mile once a day — and see for yourself how the daily habit of movement can transform your life — and life’s work! One step at a time.