What a Long Walk Does to Your Body

A lot of speculative stories involve characters going for very long walks, whether it’s carrying the One Ring to Mordor or keeping away from other tributes in the Hunger Games. If you’re feeling cooped up inside right now, you may well be imagining a new story in which your characters travel a long way through the wilderness on foot.

I’ve written before about some of the practical details of walking long distances (here), but you may also want to think about the effect a long walk has on the human body. Here is a very interesting article by Robert Moor from a few years back about how walking the Appalachian trail affected him.

The whole article is fascinating reading, but here are few noteworthy observations from Moor about the effects of strenuous walking.

  • Your body learns to recognize good and bad foods: “you begin to acutely feel the quality of the nutrition you are putting into your body.” You come to crave those that will give sustaining energy for hours of walking, while cheap highs of sugars and fats can come with a devastating crash afterward.
  • Many walkers loose weight, shedding fat and building muscle. The result is often that as walkers go on they can walk farther and farther distances.
  • The body’s adaptation to walking, though, makes it less adapted to other demanding activities. A simple swim in a lake left Moor and another hiker “blue-lipped from the water, clutching ourselves and shivering electrically.”

Enjoy your explorations. Even if you are stuck between four walls at the moment, the imagination knows no limits!

How It Happens is an occasional feature looking at the inner workings of various creative efforts.