Enjoying a morning walk and the many benefits of making it a regular habit

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A mellow sun, cool breeze carrying the smell of rain, a drop of water rolling off a glossy leaf, a secret bowl of shimmering water reflecting the orange arc of a bridge, a bed of tall hollyhocks nodding their pink heads alongside smiling yellow sunflowers, the dulcet tones of a black bird with a scarf of red at its throat, half hidden by the branches of a Gulmohar tree – these are the small delights that I can find during my morning walk.

Walking as an exercise has many benefits. It helps to burn calories, lose weight, reduces risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and asthma. It helps you sleep better and prevent dementia. Walking in green spaces gives you an added bonus – it boosts your sense of well-being and promotes happiness. It is an inexpensive pleasure appealing to people across ages. Unlike other forms of exercise that target certain areas of the body or promise to burn a certain number of calories, walking is an activity that is both the outcome and the goal in itself. There is a sense of getting somewhere without the urgency of needing to be there. If you walk mindfully, with all your senses open to the world, it is a moving feast. I walk to walk.

I usually walk at the Gulshan Park near my house. Unlike any park I have seen, it has a deep basin of water in the middle, too small to be called a lake and too large for a mere pond. The lake is fringed by a great variety of trees, with leaves that gleam in fifty shades of green: the limpid green of new mango leaves, the waxy dark hues of the oleander plant and brown-green fronds of the palm. The park is small in comparison to the parks of the great cities of the world. A single circumambulation is just about a kilometre. It has only one path about six feet wide for runners and walkers. Yet, in a crowded city with little walking space, with roads often plagued by traffic snarls, it is a haven that takes you close to nature while affording the opportunity of exercise.

This park seems to be a hub of social and physical activities. I often see a large gathering of ladies sitting and talking to each other, over food. The sound of their conversation mingles with the Bangla melodies that chime through the concealed speakers – the tunes are familiar but the words are new. Now I can make out some of the favourites- tumi amar meye, ami tomar maa… Friends meet and greet each other and as they walk, perhaps they talk about the state of the nation and the results of the cricket match. A beefy masseur kneads the shoulders of a slight man who is clearly enjoying the relaxation it provides.

Here, you see a serious runner, steadily beating down the paved path, lost in a world of music and rhythm. There you see a clutch of ladies, colourful in their salwar kameezes and sports shoes leisurely ambling along. On the broad swathe of concrete that is an amphitheatre, you see the yoga aspirant stretching his limbs and bowing to the sun. A few fitness enthusiasts perform their routines, bending the body to their will. An old man with a walking stick plods along in solitary splendour. A small child skips along in front of her parents, an ayah pushes a gurgling blue eyed baby in a pram. Life unfolds and moves on.

I wish there were more parks in cities in our part of the world. Amidst the concrete clutter and urban squalor, a patch of green is literally a breath of fresh air. It is also a public space which invites freedom of expression under the open skies. Parks are a blessing; they heal and connect all those who pass through it. The presence of parks is a sign of wellness in a city and presence in the park is an indication of wellness in a person.

This article was first published on the Dhaka Tribune