I step from gravel to pavement and shut the gate. My fingers twist inside my pockets to find the soft grey gloves. As I slide them on, I feel the familiar press of boots on damp grass. By the time my headphones are pressed into my ears and I tap ‘play’ my legs have sped me halfway across the field. The crisp air bites at my cheeks, but it is refreshing. I can feel the blood rushing through me. I feel alive. And yet all I am doing is letting the automatic function in my brain push my legs backwards and forwards: left…right…left…right. The scents of sap from surrounding trees is strangely comforting. I press ‘pause’. The distant birdsong laces the quiet air. I slow down and soak in the sights of the sky and the stretching trees. Then, I zoom into the details. The mosaic of reflected rays in the puddle. The swishing ponytail of the runner in the distance. The press of the wind against my pink ears. Soon I am back at the gate, steeping from pavement to gravel and gravel to carpet. Bathing in the warmth of the house…
My favourite thing to do during the Christmas holidays is to go for walks because of the peacefulness. Regular walks offer a multitude of benefits not only to physical health, but mental and emotional wellbeing.
Why didn’t I think of presents, or having some precious family time, or even the Christmas movies? Why of all things did I choose walking? Well, I was thinking about past Christmases and someone I miss. While I was thinking about them, I remembered all the walks we went on, especially at Christmas time. On Christmas day some years, too. Walking isn’t something that I often think about, but I do a lot of it and often. I walk to school everyday, which takes about half an hour (or fifteen to twenty minutes if I’m late and having to speed-walk). Although I haven’t done it very recently, I like to go for walks as a break from revision. And even though I do like running, sometimes a walk is the one thing that I need to make me feel better when I’m sad or anxious. As a writer, going for walks is personally very useful.
Walking is one of our most basic functions and yet much of the Western population in particular has found issues with the rise of the sedentary lifestyle in recent years. According to the BBC News article from July 2012
‘One in three adults worldwide fails to do the recommended 150 minutes of moderate aerobic physical activity per week’
Although data may have changed since then, this is still a massive issue. The article points out that a sedentary lifestyle causes around ‘5.3 million deaths a year’ (‘based on estimates of the impact on inactivity on coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and two specific cancers — breast and bowel — where lack of exercise is a major risk factor.’). Walking is classed as a form of moderate aerobic physical activity, which is one of the reasons I think walking is so important for health, wellbeing and also as a break from daily life.
In the Guardian’s online article ‘Put you best foot forward: why walking is good for you’, a certified fitness professional, Jolynn Baca Jaekel summarised the benefits of walking:
“What I love about walking is that anyone can do it at any age and any fitness level. Plus it is good for your heart, your head and your wallet”
I have found that — and many articles comment on this — walking is often overlooked as a form of exercise in comparison to more intense forms like running or working out at the gym. Many people might consider walking to be a form of exercise solely for older generations and a lot of people my age would agree with that idea. However, walking can be just as beneficial to health, if not more in some situations, as running and similar activities.
According to the Guardian, regular walks can reduce stress levels and boost your mood. Also, a study at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California found that brisk walking reduced the risk of heart disease by 9.3% in participants aged between 18 and 80 over a six-year period. This was higher than running, which reduced the risk of heart disease by only 4.5%.
So you don’t have to be intimidated by the fitness-fanatics in the gym to improve your health. This is an issue largely among girls and women rather than boys and men, which I understand. For a long time, although I went to the gym, I was very conscious about sweating and my face going red. To some people, this is an insignificant matter, but it took me months and months to build the confidence to push myself in the gym and get the most out of a workout without worrying about what others think. My point here is that walking is a great way to stay fit alongside building the confidence to do the more challenging sports or exercises. So don’t underestimate the power of a good walk!
The popular YouTuber ‘Sprinkle of Glitter’ aka Louise Pentland made a video highlighting some of these ideas. She commented that her way of keeping fit is taking brisk walks. The main point of her video is to explain the campaign ‘This Girl Can’, which aims to build confidence in women in terms of exercising. She says ‘it doesn’t matter what you do. It doesn’t matter what size you are..’ and ‘it’s about doing it’. So, you may be already ‘doing it’ without even realising. Either walking as a means of transport or during their free time. This is why I think it’s important to recognise the benefits of walking, especially regular walks.
In terms of mental and emotional wellbeing, walking can be the break you need to boost your mood, as mentioned according to the Guardian. I like to run when I’m angry or upset to release those emotions so that I can move one. But sometimes walking is a better way to relieve sadness or overwhelming emotions because it gives you a chance to pause and reflect. When you’re busy all day every day, it can be refreshing to just take a quiet peaceful walk. On the other hand, like I sometimes do, you can stick your headphones in and let your emotions flow with the music while you take in the surroundings. I find that walking through fields or woods and being around nature incredibly calming.
At Christmas time, a walk means a chance to spend time with family which I believe is more meaningful than a game of monopoly or falling asleep to a film with a bellyful of turkey. This is because all distractions are removed. You don’t even have to think about moving — it’s automatic. All of your attention can be focused on your thoughts and getting those into the (admittedly very cold) air is a relief is they have been weighing you down as well as a great way to bond. It’s beautiful when it snows, too.
Another personal reason that I love to go for walks is to help with my writing. The physical action of moving forward is a great way to combat negative thoughts rather than staying at home and letting myself sink into a dark mood. The change of scenery can offer inspiration for ideas, whether it’s a detailed description of the beautiful nature or a unique character as a result of people-watching.
The NHS Choices website stresses that walking should be made a habit. For example, my walk to school everyday. There are many simple ways to increase the amount of walking you do, like using the stairs more often than lifts; trying not to use a car for short journeys and making time for an after dinner stroll. There are tons of pedometer and health monitoring apps you can try, but it’s important not to get too bogged down in them. One I have used in the past is called ‘Moves’ and monitors walking, cycling or running (as long as you keep your phone with you) in terms of steps, distance, duration and even calories.
Personally, apart from travelling to places , I go for walks whenever I feel like it. You Beauty. com advises that you’d have to walk longer than you’d have to run for the same effect, so longer but regular walks are most effective if you want them to significantly impact your health.
Walking often is the free, easy way to improve your health and your mood. And it gives you a rare chance to pause from the rush of a busy life, leave technology behind if you want to, and just reflect on your thoughts. Walks are for everyone —family, friends or alone. With heavy metal screaming through headphones or absolute silence. Weaving through the bustling crowds of the city on your way to work or driving out into the countryside to have an hour-long walk in the hills. Don’t be a grumpy couch potato!
This post was written in response to the Daily Post Writing 201 challenge: ‘The Thoughtfully Considered Opinion Piece‘