WHY YOU SHOULD TAKE A WALK ON THE WISE SIDE
Review of Jono Lineen, Perfect Motion: How Walking Makes Us Wiser
Sydney Morning Herald, 20 July 2019
Around the world, many people use fitness trackers to target 10,000 steps a day. The goal has its origins in the 1960s, when a Japanese company marketed a pedometer called a manpo-kei, which translates as ‘10,000-step meter’. There isn’t much science behind the number: a study this year found that you get about as much health benefit from 7,500 daily steps.
Walking isn’t just good for the body – it nurtures the soul. Wordsworth, Thoreau, Austen, Aristotle and Brahms are among the many creatives who have found that the muse comes to them when strolling. Religious pilgrimages are about the journey as much as the destination. Stride through a big city and you see things you’d never notice from a car window. Can anyone say that they truly understand Australia if they haven’t gotten lost in the bush?
In Perfect Motion, Jono Lineen brings together a potpourri of stories from a life on the move. Marching in mock Orange Day parades as a child in Belfast. Trekking to hunt deer in Canada. Cross-country skiing in Sweden. Cajoling his children along the Yankee Hat trail in Canberra. Running the Kathmandu Marathon. Strolling the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail in Spain.
Like a hiking trail that suddenly cuts through the suburbs, Lineen’s stories don’t perfectly join up. This is partly because he’s avoiding recounting his biggest trek: a 2700 kilometre journey following the death of his brother that was the subject of Lineen’s 2014 book, Into the Heart of the Himalayas.
To read Perfect Motion is like taking a rambling walk along a picturesque path. Lineen is a talented writer who has lived an extraordinary life, and each page brings new discoveries and fresh anecdotes.
Some of the most striking stories in the book are drawn from Lineen’s time with Médecins Sans Frontières. In Sierra Leone, he and his team negotiate with a AK-47-toting rebels, led by a man called Tejan Superman, seeking permission to set up a clinic to treat local villagers. In Nepal, Lineen and his colleagues establish a clinic in the village of Litakot, only to unexpectedly learn that the town has been taken over by Maoist revolutionaries. The health workers are told ‘you will stay with us now. Maybe for five or ten years.’ You’ll have to read the book to find out how they escape, but it’s no spoiler to say that walking is involved.
Joining the tales together are a plethora of studies about why we walk, the benefits of walking, and the role that walking plays in a good life. We learn that the first evidence of our ancestors walking comes from fossilised footprints, preserved 1.5 million years ago on the shores of Kenya’s Lake Turkana. We read about the role that walking played in the development of Indigenous songlines. We find out that exercising makes us more attentive, social and open, by influencing brain chemicals that include dopamine, norepinephrine, anandamide and serotonin. We discover that mice will voluntarily run on a wheel for multiple kilometres a night. And we encounter research into embodied cognition, which shows the close connection between physical sensations and how we structure our thoughts.
In modern-day Australia, walking is often purposeful. We walk to get to the bus, to the next meeting, to pick up a loaf of bread at the corner store. Lineen’s book reminds us to value the walk taken for its own sake. Perhaps our culture could learn from the Italians, who distinguish ‘andare a piedi’ (to go by foot) from the ‘passeggiata’: a leisurely stroll around the neighbourhood with one’s friends and family. In the same spirit, maybe youth sport bodies should do more to promoterace walking, which is gentler on the knees than running.
Ultimately, Lineen’s book is a love letter to the art of walking, and to the ‘thousands of generations of bipedal motion’ that make it a natural part of our existence. Walking might make us healthier, and it could make us wiser. But in its essence,moving by foot at four kilometres an hour is simply one of life’s true pleasures.
Andrew Leigh is a marathon runner, a former race walkerand a member of the Australian Parliament.
Authorised by Noah Carroll ALP Canberra.