Guest Blog: Viv & Louis - getting a dog in mid-life
Walking the Dog – How to stay Upbeat and Creative
Viv & Louis
“We don’t laugh because we’re happy….we’re happy because we laugh”
Its 6.50 am on a greyish morning, I’ve just been looking down at my dog Louis’ face as I’m walking along with him on his early morning ‘doing the business’ jaunt! As ever, he’s looking up at me, bright eyed, expectant and seemingly adoringly……and I just can’t help but smile!
This is a routine walk, just 15 minutes around the block every morning. In some ways, when I’m busy it could be a chore….but it very rarely is. I always end up feeling better as a result, even if I’m togged up with my head down against lashing rain.
So I’ve been reflecting on why this is.
Taking on a dog with two busy professional lives was a big decision for my wife and I and it has proved a challenging balancing act:
- we’ve had to find reliable dog walkers and sitters for when we’re both working,
- we plan our holidays well in advance, picking dog-friendly places where we can
- we call on favours from friends and family
- we’ve abandoned our spontaneous weekends away and nights out and generally find many hours every week to care for Louis!
So what have been the positives and how has this affected me and my state of mind?
Fit for Purpose!
The most obvious (but not necessarily expected) impact has been on my health and fitness. Whatever the weather I walk Louis on average 10 hours a week. It’s a simple, natural exercise which is inexorably tied to my lifestyle and, over time, I have lost (and kept off) around a stone in weight, without changing my diet. I’m as vain as the next middle-aged man and an inch off the waist and being close to my ‘fighting weight’ aids my self- esteem as well as helping with my physical and medical fitness.
The second major element is more subtle. It relates to ‘Mindfulness’- something that’s become a much written about state and the benefits of mindfulness are well known and explained .
Putting a Spring in My Step
Firstly, walking slows me down. I get into a rhythm, my busy brain relaxes, the pointless self- talk and noise reduces and I feel calmer. This allows me to start to notice the small things : I become more aware of and attuned to my surroundings. Even on seemingly mundane urban walks I notice interesting things….brickwork, interesting doorways, buildings, houses, garden ornaments even weird curtains!
This has given me a much keener sense of nature and the seasons. As I write it’s early Spring and day by day I see the changes, every bud opening, daffodil and tulip bursting open , cherry trees blossoming, I note the slow but exhilarating change and it lifts the spirit.
Walking Stimulates Creativity
Not that I’m a tree-hugger, but there is no doubt this double whammy of relaxing and at the same time being focused and aware, really helps me to feel good and it has improved my focus.
The biochemists tell us that these simple experiences release dopamine (the pleasure inducing drug) so the effects are real and measurable. In fact the Dept. of Psychology at Harvard University have done a number of studies showing how ‘moderate aerobic exercise e.g. walking improves emotional regulation and increases positive emotion’.
Many of the most accomplished creative thinkers of our times have found that walking as an integral part of their routine, was critical to their success as artists, writers and thinkers:
Aristotle conducted his lectures while walking in the grounds of his Athens school (hence the name for his ‘followers’ …peripatetics, Greek for meandering).
Charles Dickens walked between 20 and 30 miles a day to stimulate his thinking and generate content for his novels; he used walking as his ‘safety valve’ to combat the stressful discipline of writing at his desk.
Beethoven took several breaks every working day to ‘break out into the open’. He found this a significant stimulus to his thinking and often continued to work on notes as he walked.
Charles Darwin had a walking path “Sandways” built around his house in Kent, which he called his ‘thinking path’. He said that it was an invaluable aide to assembling his theory of Natural Selection from the evidence he gathered.
There are many more to add to this list including , Einstein, Wordsworth, Steve Jobs and Sigmund Feud who enhanced and stimulated their creative thinking through regular walking….it seems I’m in good company in getting creative through walking!
Of course you don’t need a dog to generate these benefits, however there has been another great feel-good benefit for me of having Louis by my side and that is meeting the neighbours and making new friends. I’d heard the myth “If you want to make new friends get a puppy”, well it’s proven to be true!
My wife and I have met and befriended a much wider range of neighbours since walking Louis. Near and not so near neighbours stop and ask about him, stroke him, offer him treats and strike up conversations . We meet other regular dog walkers at certain well known spots as a small community, this is especially strong in the bad weather, when the’ Dunquerque spirit’ brings dog walkers together to collectively grumble then laugh at the rain!
So - losing weight, feeling physically better, improved self- esteem, more relaxed and aware, creative problem solving and a better social network….not a bad return for giving up a bit of spontaneity and having to perfect the ‘poop bag technique’ !