I have two doctors, my left leg and my right. GEORGE TREVELYAN
I've never been one for sitting around too long. I like to be up and about. As someone once said: We sit at breakfast, we sit on the train on the way to work, we sit at work, we sit at lunch, we sit all afternoon, a hodgepodge of sagging livers, sinking gall bladders, drooping stomachs, compressed intestines, and squashed pelvic organs. And as someone else said: If it weren't for the fact that the TV set and the refrigerator are so far apart, some of us wouldn't get any exercise at all.
Of course I'm sedentary much of the time like many of us. I sit at the computer, I sit at the dining table, I sit and read a book, I sit and watch TV. It's just that I can't sit down for long without getting terrible itchy feet. In fact I don't think we're meant to live overly sedentary lives. I know for a lot of us this is unavoidable at our place of work. That's why it's so important to try and balance things out by using our own two feet as much as we can during our leisure time.
The one thing I can't endure now is sitting for hours and hours in the car. This dates from a time when I used to drive 40,000 miles a year criss-crossing England as a freelance publishers' agent. I just couldn't go back to driving hundreds of miles each day. I have a phobia about it. (Sometimes, when I had a few free hours, I would turn off the motorway and take a walk in the countryside - carrying an umbrella, and dressed in a suit and smart shoes! I must have looked a trifle odd to other walkers passing by in cagoules, waterproof trousers and leather boots. But for me it was a necessary escape valve.)
The other sedentary activity I find difficult is sitting at dinner parties and social gatherings, or in circles of acquaintances or colleagues, and having to make polite conversation for hours on end. I'm not anti-social - but I'm not particularly effusively sociable either. When the boredom sets in and the gossip becomes too much to bear, my feet start tapping and my gaze turns to the world outside beckoning from beyond the window. How I would so love to be running in freedom out there!
Jean-Jacques Rousseau would have identified with this. In a passage from the Eighth Walk in The Reveries Of The Solitary Walker Rousseau reminds us that, in order to appreciate a walk in nature with all its charms, you must leave behind the disturbance of the vain ideas of the drawing room, the fumes of self-love and the tumult of the world, and social passions and their sad retinue:
I remember perfectly that during my brief moment of prosperity these same solitary walks which are so delightful for me today were insipid and boring. When I was at someone's house in the country, the need to get some exercise and to breathe fresh air often made me go out alone; and sneaking away like a thief, I would go walk about the park or the countryside. But far from finding the happy calm I savor there today, I took along the disturbance of the vain ideas which had preoccupied me in the drawing room. Memory of the company I had left followed me into solitude. The fumes of self-love and the tumult of the world made the freshness of the groves seem dull and troubled the peace of the retreat. I fled deep into the woods in vain; an importunate crowd followed me everywhere and veiled all of nature to me. It is only after having detached myself from social passions and their sad retinue that I have again found nature with all its charms.
As well as being an escape from stress, boredom and social passions and their sad retinue, walking is also excellent for our health and well-being. It reduces the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer. It keeps joints fluid, and bones and muscles strong. It's also a strong antidote to depression and other mental health problems. And it's actually pleasurable too! These are wonderful benefits from such an easy, innocuous, free and democratic activity.
Walking is the best possible exercise. THOMAS JEFFERSON
It is remarkable how one's wits are sharpened by physical exercise. PLINY THE YOUNGER
A vigorous five mile walk will do more good for an unhappy but otherwise healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world. PAUL DUDLEY WHITE