Jane Austen isn’t an obvious topic for anything fitness-related. To be sure, being a gym bunny wasn’t the trend among ladies like her in the Georgian era.
There is evidence that suggested she enjoyed walking, though; it’s a trait she shared with the famous characters she created such as Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice.
Jane Austen (1775–1817) is a celebrated English writer well-known for the witty social commentary she incorporates in her novels about courtship and marriage in the Georgian era. Some of her famous novels include Pride and Prejudice and Emma.
Though she achieved a modest level of success in her lifetime, her works did not achieve widespread popularity until 1869. She and her works are now a beloved part of pop culture and have spawned cultish fan clubs as well as a thriving industry of film, TV and book adaptations such as Clueless and Dinner with Mr. Darcy.
Regency-era form of recreation
If office yoga, gym memberships and High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) were not a thing during the 1800s, then how did women keep physically active? Well, back then, their physical pursuits were confined to the following activities: horseback riding, ballroom dancing and leisurely walking.
A bit about leisurely walking. According to The Jane Austen Centre, walking was very much a part of life during Austen’s time — particularly during the Regency period.
“A stroll in the park during the fashionable hour, while not as impressive as driving or riding, still provided a chance to see and be seen. There was also the all-important shopping expedition to the exclusive shops of Bond Street, where the elite would be seen promenading from shop to shop after they drove or rode to the area.”
Apparently, only the lower classes walked to work. “Gentlemen might walk to their clubs if they had rooms nearby. By and large they never walked as a means of travel. Walking was recreation –— a chance to see and be seen.”
‘Peasantest part of the day’
This wonderful journal article “I Prefer Walking”: Jane Austen and “The Pleasantest Part of the Day” by Sally Palmer also offers insights on just how much the author loved walking. Here are excerpts from the said article:
“Although Regency women of the gentry were largely confined to home and carriage, to Austen herself, as well as to her fictional heroines, the most enjoyable and significant moments of life were spent not indoors but ‘walking out.’ In contrast to the immobility of female life inside four walls, the daily walk, whether sociable or solitary, is shown in Austen’s letters and novels to be a valuable, even treasured, habit.
“For Austen and her characters, walking is a habitual part of daily life. In letters written in 1805 and in 1806, Austen says, ‘We do nothing but walk about’ and ‘We walk a good deal.’ She characterizes herself as a ‘desperate’ walker, and this disposition is shared by her heroines.”
Walking is one of the most natural activities of humans. This weight-bearing exercise is as instinctive to us as breathing. Some of its health benefits include the following:
Increased cardiovascular and pulmonary (heart and lung) fitness;
Reduced risk of heart disease and stroke;
Improved management of conditions such as hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, joint and muscular pain or stiffness and diabetes;
Stronger bones and improved balance;
Increased muscle strength and endurance; and
Reduced body fat (BetterHealth Channel, June 2015).
Austen probably wasn’t thinking about the technicalities of the endeavor, but she definitely felt the benefits at a mental, social and emotional level.
To quote the aforementioned Questia article, “Austen would contend that walking has a salutary, healing effect on health and vitality. It also promotes and advances social relationships, develops aesthetic sensibilities and leads to proper understanding of correct behavior and thinking.”
Where to do an Austen in Manila
So where can one be “an excellent walker” a la Austen and pursue the joy of walking in Metro Manila (preferably before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m.)? Here are a few suggestions:
Enjoy the sunshine at Rizal Park before heading to the Natural History and Anthropology museums if you haven’t been yet. Both are open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesdays to Sundays. Admission is free.
La Mesa Eco Park
With a butterfly garden, public pools, plus facilities for boating, fishing, biking and archery, you can definitely more than walk here. Open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., admission is P25 if you only wish to stroll. Otherwise, visit their official Facebook page for more info on the rates and schedules of each aforementioned activity.
Bonifacio Global City
If you like exercising outdoors, you’ll find lots of kindred spirits here. Appreciate the pockets of green in this city such as Track 30th with its jogging path, yoga lawn and meditation garden. There is no fee to pay, but you might have to find a place to park your car first!
The Jane Austen Centre (20 June 2011). “The Pleasure of Walking.” Retrieved from https://www.janeausten.co.uk/the-pleasure-of-walking/
Palmer, S. (2001). “I Prefer Walking”: Jane Austen and “The Pleasantest Part of the Day”. (the Country and the City). Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal, volume 23. Retrieved from https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1G1-89381611/i-prefer-walking-jane-austen-and-the-pleasantest
BetterHealth Channel. (2015, June). “Walking for good health.” Retrieved from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/walking-for-good-health