Step on those soles to save your souls

IAN COLLINS Life in the 21st century is a trail of irony. (Some days see a trial of ironing too, but that's another story.) We have more and more options and opportunities, but consumerism incites us to do less and less.


Life in the 21st century is a trail of irony. (Some days see a trial of ironing too, but that's another story.)

We have more and more options and opportunities, but consumerism incites us to do less and less. The modern maxim is: “I spend therefore I am.” But is there anything in life more boring, and ultimately more soul-destroying, than shopping?

I spend time doing interesting things therefore I am.

Recently I asked a 15-year-old girl what she wanted to do in adulthood. “I want to run a business,” she said.

“Great!” I said. “What kind of business?”

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“No idea,” she said. “Just one that will make me lots of money.”

I could have wept that someone so bright and beautiful, so young and full of energy, could have been so mercenary and otherwise so empty.

Kids now want to be rich and famous - preferably both, without having a clue that it's the doing of the thing that may or may not bring those rewards (or burdens) that counts.

Even if I were not so deeply rooted in East Anglian Puritanism, I'd know that we were meant to be active, not idle. It's the doing that makes the being.

Look how many men die swiftly after switching-off in retirement following a life of labour. Look how many people crack up after winning sudden fortune.

Rock star hell is the height of self-obsessed absurdity. Stop whining, whingeing and bingeing Amy Winehouse and just get on with the singing which you do so well.

Just as our minds crave stimulation, our bodies demand activity - or they bulge and sag and then generally turn against us with all manner of ailments. Perhaps the greatest irony of modern life is that fatal combination of obesity and malnutrition (often in the same people) - that and the impoverishment of the imagination.

Frankly, we were designed for work - initially as hunters and gatherers, and then as farmers, toiling from dawn to dusk. Nowadays our bodies are grievously misused by being so underused. They're machines that need maintenance and a lot of exercise.

I know of a ninetysomething man who walks for 90 minutes to Saturday service at our local synagogue, then 90 minutes home again. “Poor old chap!” I thought when first hearing of this feet feat. “Why can't someone give him a lift?” Idiot. The walking is keeping him going.

An octogenarian friend of mine walks a mile of a morning to collect milk and newspaper, tends a two-acre garden and does all his own housework. He is also a lay reader. All that besides his mainspring as a writer. Naturally, he's fighting fit. And hugely happy.

The key to a long and contented life is surely to be engaged and enthused. Getting stuck in makes it more likely we'll stick around.

How we laughed when a hospital offered an elderly post-op friend (who lives in a tall house) an aid to physiotherapy which turned out to be a little set of steps. Yes, the best exercise is going up and down stairs.

My best friend has a flat in Edinburgh which is positioned above The Mound. Once you've climbed to the front door in that blissfully hilly city, there's a further 94-stair journey ahead and overhead.

Exhausting at first, then merely tiring, then no problem at all, the trek up that Himalayan staircase is, after a week or so, completed in leaps and bounds. It leaves me feeling on top of the world.

And yet I'm acquainted with people who drive to the gym. They pay through the nose for fuel and fees when they could go for a walk for free.

And you can breathe in more pollution inside your car than from walking the same route. Walking can also halve the risk of coronary heart disease and help prevent some cancers.

As of this crammed and congested minute, 109 journeys between Central London Tube stations (now at the penal price of £4 for a single fare) are quicker by foot.

Nationally the average drive to school and back releases 800g of carbon dioxide into the air - enough to inflate over 60 balloons for a polluter's party.

Walking regularly - I almost always take a stroll after supper - improves wellbeing and helps reduce stress. Work It Out By Walking is as useful a motto, I find, as Sleep On It. Put them together and most everyday problems can be cracked.

Best of all, walking is so interesting. So ditch the iPod, dump the mobile. Engage every sense while wandering in this world of wonders.