Unexpected but welcome benefits of walking

I’d vowed to myself that I would be better about either going to the gym or walking more on my week off work, and I stayed faithful to that promise from Saturday through Wednesday.

On Thursday, my Garmin fitness tracker was nagging at me that I hadn’t fulfilled my contractual obligation to reach 10,000 steps. (Okay, maybe it’s not exactly contractual…) Having no car to drive to a regional park or similar destination–my Honda was in the shop–I decided to explore my neighborhood and maybe a little beyond.

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon. I headed west on Solano Avenue, where I have walked hundreds of times, and then hung a right at the Ohlone Greenway under the BART track. Many people were strolling, riding bikes, jogging, pushing strollers, and taking their dogs out for walks. People were politely using the correct sides of the clearly marked path, distinguished by universally accepted symbols for pedestrians versus cyclists. One gentleman was actually managing to read as he kept up a fairly brisk pace. Occasionally the train whooshed noisily above, but otherwise it was a fairly peaceful park experience.

I had my earphones in, catching up on my podcasts, and just kept walking.

Albany loop
This is actually an artist’s rendition of the Albany Loop before it was completed. Alas, I took no photo as I passed it.

I saw the huge calypso-blue letters that make up the Albany Loop, a public art installation at the corner of San Gabriel and Portland Avenues that lets you know you’re not in Berkeley anymore.

I walked past the fitness gizmos that promote outdoor exercise. Nobody was utilizing them, but they made me feel healthier just by being in their presence.

I passed both Albany Middle School with its colorful tiles and Albany High School (Go, Cougars!), though because it’s early August, both campuses were quieter than they would have been a month from now.

I discovered a dog park that I never knew was part of Memorial Park. It was just a small fenced enclosure, but the seven or eight dogs frolicking there didn’t seem put off by the size or lack of aesthetics.

Behind the Albany Little League snack shack I happened upon a sweet little public garden that was home to a variety of herbs and vegetables. Apparently it’s been there for six years!

And parents and babysitters were out with their little ones, enjoying the playground’s slides and swings.

So not only did I surpass my fitness goal of 10,000 steps, I experienced a few thriving micro-communities just blocks from my home. It was only later that I remembered reading that exercising out in nature–even suburban nature–is an important element of staying healthy. I think that strolling by a garden, a dog park, and playground structures probably benefits my mental health more than my physical health because all of it made me smile and feel lucky to live where I do, mere steps away from so much life.