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Why I walk: Staying healthy both mentally and physically


Cervantes famously said: “He who walks far and reads much goes far and knows much.” I paused to read this quote in an ad for the San Francisco Public Library. It seemed apt that I’d come across this line, printed in large-impact font on a poster at a MUNI bus stop, for I’d just made it halfway on my “walk-commute” from my law school campus to my apartment in the Inner Richmond neighborhood of San Francisco.

I’d always been a voracious reader, plowing through volumes of both literature and non-fiction—even during the three intensive years I spent in law school—so I felt I was well on my way to achieving the second prong of the Cervantes quote. Being a person who walks far was a different story.

Walking takes too long, right?

Before I started my J.D., I ambled on for miles. After all, I completed my undergraduate studies in London, a city where the streets have been worn down by walkers for centuries. When law school started, I moved to a city well-served by trains, buses, and trolleys, and I started walking less. The days also seemed to have fewer hours than ever before, and each minute came at a premium.

Why walk when I could hop on a bus and make my commute in half that time? Or even better, why not call a ride-share and slice my commute even further? Here was my reasoning: Each minute I saved on travel was another minute I could spend studying for civil procedure or contracts.

Despite that reasoning, I started walking long distances again about six months ago, when my hours at a summer internship meant I had to face the peak of the evening rush hour. I found myself annoyed by the grudging dawdle of traffic out of downtown San Francisco, as well as the overcrowding and lack of predictability of the transit system.

Seeking to avoid both the elbow-inyour-face experience of a MUNI bus as well as the exorbitant, surge-boosted rates of a ride-share, I decided to walk the three-and-a-half miles back to my apartment. The first time I did it, it took me about an hour-and-a-half. Once I learned how to circumvent San Francisco’s legendary hills, however, I was able to shave that time down to about an hour and 10 minutes.

I now do a walk-commute at least twice a week. Avoiding public transportation leaves me one less thing to worry about, and the fresh air and serenity are two more things I can look forward to. Walking has also kept me fit and active in the otherwise static crucible that is law school.

It’s hard to beat the sense of accomplishment that comes after realizing just how far your two feet can take you.

A little walking goes a long way

Laurie Brookner, a registered nurse at University of California Hastings College of the Law’s Student Health Services, assists students on a variety of mental and physical health issues. She recommends they incorporate walking into their lives as a way to lower blood pressure and improve sleep.

“A lot of students talk about activities they used to do before they came to law school,” said Brookner.

“But instead of building these positive things into their routine, they often neglect them.”

Brookner pointed out that walking is an extremely versatile activity that law students and attorneys should incorporate into their day-to-day lives. “You don’t need to go at a rapid pace,” she said. “You can go alone or with a group, and you don’t need any special equipment other than a pair of shoes.

“Walking even 10 or 20 minutes during your lunch break every day can go a long way,” she adds.

Walking also increases bone density, decreases blood pressure, and strengthens the heart muscle. It also can reduce stress and increase your focus.

Things just got real!

It’s a chilly January morning in the Bay Area. The sun isn’t up yet, and I’m cold and a bit groggy. My head throbs a little, but I get up, take a quick shower, and pull on some clothes. I string up my boots and call a ride-share to the Forest Hill neighborhood of San Francisco.

I’m on my way to meet Frank Wu, a nationally-renowned attorney, writer, and academic. Currently a distinguished professor at U-C Hastings, Wu has a dazzling background that includes being the first Asian-American professor at Howard Law School and the first Asian- American dean of Wayne State University Law School in Detroit.

Wu was the chancellor of and dean at Hastings when I enrolled in 2015. I remembered him hosting an orientation activity that involved a lengthy walk at the break of dawn. I also remembered signing up for this activity and later cancelling when I realized there was no way I’d get my undisciplined self out of bed that early.

I also had a vague recollection of a talk he gave to my class in which he proclaimed he was “lazy” and thus needed to set appointments to force him to get out of the house. For instance, he’d schedule time to walk the nearly four-and-a-half miles from his home to his office at the Hastings campus.

These memories stuck with me throughout law school, and they compelled me to contact Wu to talk about walking for this article. He replied nearly instantaneously and graciously offered me the opportunity to walk and talk with him.

Through our email exchange, I learned that Wu is a fervent walker. Not only does he host regular “walking office hours” for his students, but he also walks from his home to work two to three times a week. On top of that, he also runs an incredible amount. Last year, he completed 27 half-marathons. In 2016, he finished 36.

Clearly, there was some driving force that compelled Wu to keep his feet moving. Whatever it was, I was destined to figure it out. And so I gladly took him up on his offer to walk the distance from his home to Hastings.

Far removed from the sleepy first year who had to haplessly cancel an early-morning orientation activity, I was at Frank Wu’s door by the crack of dawn, pen and paper in hand, ready to keep pace.

Using laziness to your advantage

We’re out his door by 7:08 a.m. Wu needs to be in a classroom at Hastings by 8:30. He seems confident we’ll go the whole 4.3 miles in an hour and 22 minutes.

“Walking has changed my life,” Wu said as we strutted through the Avenues of the Inner Sunset and into Golden Gate Park. He told me that he’s found walking to be intrinsically worthwhile.

“Apart from the physical benefits, it makes you better at whatever it is you do,” he told me. “It clears your mind and helps build focus.” Wu also told me he often gets work done while he walks. Sometimes he makes phone calls. Other times, he does office walking hours with his students.

He even does conference calls while walking—after forewarning his fellow participants that they may hear occasional street sounds. “I just have to tell them I’m walking the streets of San Francisco,” he said.

As we cross the Panhandle and into the Western Addition neighborhood, I mention his early-morning orientation event three years ago. He tells me that each year, initially, about 20 students sign up for that type of event, then 10 drop out later that week, another five cancel the night before, and another two or three simply don’t show up.

“The reason they cancel or don’t show up is not that they’re students,” he said as we cross Divisadero Street, a major thoroughfare in the Western Addition.

“It’s because they’re human.” Wu’s thesis is that humans are inherently lazy. A key to being productive, Wu suggested, is to use that laziness to our advantage.

He mentions an endurance event he completed recently. Upon paying the fee and booking his spot in the race, he received an email outlining the rules of registration. A rule that stuck out to him was that the event would go on “rain or shine.”

Those words, Wu suggested, help prevent people from getting cold feet on the day of the race. Rain, snow, or sleet wouldn’t stop the race from happening and thus wouldn’t provide a satisfactory excuse to not attend. I joke that I was glad it didn’t rain that morning. Wu assured me that we’d still be walking even if the weather wasn’t perfect.

“If you show up at my door, I wouldn’t turn you away,” he promised. “I take a utilitarian approach to walking,” Wu said as we rambled down the final 10 blocks of McAllister Street. He told me that taking public transport to work takes him 30 minutes, while riding his motorcycle takes 27, and running takes 47.

Although walking takes Wu 17 more minutes than public transport, it allows him to work and make calls, all while getting exercise in the crisp San Francisco air. “If I’m on the bus,” he said, “I’m probably just going to be looking at my phone.”

It’s now 8:28 and we’re closing in on campus. He wants to be on time to the class he’s teaching, so we jog into the building and say a brief farewell.

As I thank him again for letting me join him on his morning walk, I notice that he’s not out of breath, nor has he broken much of a sweat. After he gets into the elevator, I turn around and head into the lobby’s common area. I find a couch and drop myself into it.

Let’s walk, shall we?

An oft-quoted adage posits that life isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon. Within that marathon that is life, however, are shorter, more digestible mini-marathons. College, law school, the two months of bar exam preparation—those are all marathons. Our upcoming law careers are longer races that will last several decades.

Much like an actual race requires physical stamina, these academic marathons demand mental stamina. I implore you, dear readers, to take advantage of the many health benefits walking has to offer and to use it to build mental endurance as you progress toward your next goal. I’m in it for the long run, and I have a feeling that you are, too.

Philip Junior Tacason Philip Tacason is a 3L at University of California, Hastings College of the Law. After graduating from Richmond College in London, England, he came to Hastings to learn about the interaction between litigation, public policy, and the government. He is an avid Bob Dylan and San Diego Padres fan.