A Walking Guide to 42 Greek islands (1987) by Gerald Thompson - page 11

First, then, the physical benefits. Let me at the outset state quite categorically that at no time
and in no place do I feel better in health than when walking in the Greek countryside.
Moreover the allergic asthma of which I had been a victim since childhood first began to
improve after my first visit to Greece, and has now almost completely disappeared. Nor is my
experience by any means an isolated one. I have heard several Greeks claim that they have
been cured of pulmonary tuberculosis by climbing this or that mountain, whilst our own
Utilitarian philosopher J.S. Mill adds further corroborative evidence of the ameliorative
effects upon this condition consequent upon mountain climbing in Attica. (Vd i Later Letters,
Nos 233, 235, 236, written 1855 when Mill was age 49).
'But what,' you may ask, 'are the reasons? How is it that totally inexperienced walkers often
suffering from chronic, malignant disease, can achieve prodigious feats of endurance with
minimal fatigue, and without the usual aches and pains that customarily follow unfamiliar,
strenuous exercise?' .I believe that those brilliant pioneers of philosophic and scientific
enquiry who in Ionia in the sixth century B.C. proclaimed, with characteristic insight that the
basic elements from which the universe is constructed are Earth, Air, Fire and Water, have
given us the clue. It is often stated, and most frequently by Greeks themselves, that Greece is
a poor country; but this is of course only partially true. Poor it may be in the expendable
luxury articles of the West: but in the basic essentials required for a happy, healthy existence
Greece is a veritable Eldorado. Can anyone, for example, who has tasted the succulent
produce of the land - grapes, figs, tomatoes, oranges - ever doubt their first-rate quality, or
question the fecundity or a soil which produces fruit in such amazing abundance? And the
reason? The incalculable richness of the earth, the air, the sunlight and mineral-laden water.
And where is the best quality food produced? Not, as you might imagine, in the lowlands of
Thessaly or Boeotia, but in the small mountain plateaux. For it is there that you will find the
purest air, air which has the texture of silk, and refines like fire; and water most devoid of
harmful impurities and most rich in life-giving minerals. And what better place to imbibe
these vital waters, to inhale this vibrant air than at their elemental source - the gushing
mountain spring, the windswept mountain peak? What better way to enjoy these delicious
fruits in all their pristine freshness, than to pluck them straight from the branch that bears
them? All of which is possible only for those who will walk.
Such then are some of the positive physical delights that lie in store for those who walk. But
before I proceed to examine the spiritual benefits, I should like to advance a theory which I
have evolved over the years to account for the curious absence of muscular pain to which I
alluded in the foregoing paragraph. Careful examination of the evidence has led me to
conclude that it is the sun and the absence of humidity which are responsible for this
remarkable phenomenon. For I have observed that the very rare occasions on which I have
felt stiff have invariably been days of oppressive cloud and humidity. I venture the hypothesis
that the prime cause of muscular pain is the presence of impurities in the blood, impurities
which are normally dispersed almost instantly by the copious perspiration which takes place
when the temperature is high and the humidity low. Thus again, by a curious paradox, the
sun, so often advanced as a pretext for not walking, turns out in fact to be an excellent reason
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