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Times of the Islands Magazine

Solvitur Ambulando…It Is Solved By Walking

Jan 24, 2021 01:20PM ● By DR. RANDALL NIEHOFF

The classical phrase in the headline above (in Latin and then English) is the noble motto of the pedestrian. It was conceived centuries ago where most walking occurs—in the great outdoors. Here on our Gulf Coast islands, that is still where it is best employed and enjoyed—and what potent medicine it is for both body and mind. 

Problems with bodily stress or aging? Solvitur ambulando oxygenates the heart, improves circulation, relaxes muscles, strengthens bones. Issues with mental/emotional anxieties? Solvitur ambulando sharpens the mind, enhances creativity, improves relationships.  

Daniel Levitin (neuroscientist, cognitive psychologist, musician and author of five international best sellers) heartily recommends walking. In his latest book, Successful Aging, he shows how walking exercises the hippocampus, the part of the brain designed to help us navigate through life (remember, assess, plan ahead, etc.). As Nietzsche said, “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.”     

Afraid you aren’t in good enough shape to exercise? Solvitur ambulando can begin gently, requiring no stern trainer or special equipment. I know many folks in Florida who wouldn’t be caught dead running a road race (a consequence they fear might occur if they attempted it). Most retirees can sympathize with the grand old dame who quipped, “If my body is ever found on a jogging trail, just know that I was murdered somewhere else and dumped there.” Luckily, we have so many other places to take a leisurely walk.            

Psychologist Jill Suttie of the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, sums up studies that show the advantages of hiking in green spaces or alongside a body of water. Unlike the noise and busyness of walking in a cityscape or along a street, meandering through nature helps you recover from overload—the mental fatigue caused by computers, cell phones, traffic noise and other distractions. Walking focuses attention on pure air and clean water, vibrant plant life and plentiful wild creatures; it protects you against ruminating (thinking about the same worries or regrets over and over again). Soaking in nature while you walk encourages feelings of awe; moving through it when alone refreshes your emotions, and if you have a companion, it makes you more empathetic and generous. The slow-paced journey increases creativity, setting your mind free to wander or daydream.

Where do you find yourself when the walk ends? Filled with gratitude! Levitin affirms: “Gratitude is probably the most underused emotion and the most misunderstood. It works at any age. The key to happiness according to many—including the Nobel prize winner Herb Simon and Warren Buffett, the Oracle of Omaha—is to be happy with what you have. Simon called it ‘satisficing.’ You don’t have to have the best of everything. You just have to have enough.” 

Does walking provide enough exercise? The British editor and BBC producer Duncan Minshull, who has written three books on walking, defines the practice as follows: “Ambling, rambling, tramping, trekking, stomping and striding.” That ought to do. 

Finally, what about guarding against Covid-19?  Since March 2020 I don’t think there has been a better locale to shelter in place and maintain a high quality of life than our Gulf Coast islands. On Sanibel we have unparalleled access to uncrowded, hospitable paths in salubrious weather: Jaunts can be taken on the 14 miles of beach, 26 miles of shared-use paths, numerous nature trails, landscaped parking areas of local businesses and even scenic back yards. Walking isn’t challenged by the CDC or the government. Until the virus is no longer a threat, we may have lost many opportunities to mingle, but we can still heed philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s advice: “Above all, do not lose your desire to walk.”


Ran Niehoff has been strolling the byways of Sanibel and Captiva since 1991.