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

Further reading:

  1. BBC News Article, July 2012 ‘Sedentary lifestyle can kill’ 
  2. The Guardian, June 2014 , ‘Put your best foot forward: why walking is good for you’
  3. You Beauty, July 2013 ‘Walking is Just as Good as Running’ 
  4. Louise’s (aka Sprinkle of Glitter) video: ‘This Girl Can’
  5. NHS Choices: ‘Walking for health’ 

How to be (or try your best to be) a good friend

Being a friend is one of the most important roles we have in life. Without friends life wouldn’t just be boring-we wouldn’t have anyone to laugh about all the stupid mistakes we make, ring up when we feel worthless and pour out our hearts to and share our passion for XYZ.

We make friends with people for a number of reasons. Proximity: the first person we see on our first day at school at the sandtray can often turn out to be our best friend just for that reason. Then there’s a shared interest or passion. The main point is that we have a choice with friends, unlike family. Though, some people don’t seem to realise this-me being one of them for a long time.

At age sixteen experienced is one thing I am not. However, I’ve had enough of them to know a fair bit about friends. And I can honestly say that I am not a bad friend. So here are my five tips based on what I have learned about friendship.

  1. Honesty. This isn’t just important. This quality can tell you straight away whether or not you should be friends with someone in the first place. Liars aren’t friends. The issue is being able tell if someone is lying. It took me two years to realise that my ‘best friend’ when I was ten was manipulating me and I was allowing her to bully me because I believed her lies. I let her tell me that I wasn’t clever or good enough and that knock to my confidence still affects me today. I was in such a close friendship with her that even when I had recognised that I was unhappy, I took a long time to break off our friendship. But it was worth all the tears and upset because now I have a much better set of friends. My closest friends are the ones I can trust to be open with and we are just honest with each other. I mean, you don’t have to tell them everything. Some things you have the right to keep to yourself. Most of my friends don’t know that I had counselling a few months ago. My family doesn’t even know that either. That doesn’t mean I’m a liar, though. That is my personal information to share with the people that I want to tell and hide from those that I don’t. My point is that I believe the importance in honesty is not spilling your every last secret to the other person, but feeling comfortable and happy enough to share your thoughts, feelings and ideas freely.
  2. YOU. A friendship is a relationship between two people and, of course, one of them is you. So be you! I don’t have much confidence, but I am not afraid to be me. I’ll be honest, sometimes I get tired of being me and I wish that I could be someone else, but I can’t and I just have to embrace my personality. Then again, if you’re in a pretty bad mood it doesn’t mean you should feel like you have to act happy for your friends. Being yourself is also being human, meaning you are allowed to have days where you feel terrible. Friends are there to help you through those times.
  3. THEM. And of course, there is the friend. Don’t be so wrapped up in your own life, problems and drama that you forget about theirs. There must be a balance of support between both friends for the relationship to work. So let them be THEM. They are allowed to be upset, angry, cranky just like you are. And even if you don’t quite understand how they feel, they need you to be there.This is really important because it’s easy to disregard something just because it doesn’t make any sense to us. But just showing the support they need is sometimes enough to help you friend. Though, you must know them and want to know about them. Tiny things build up, so let them tell you about their grandma’s favourite type of tea or their secret ability to ride a unicycle. You don’t have to remember every detail, but how can you expect to be friends with someone if you aren’t interested in them? This is what I find key in making new friends. Trying to ask questions about them is so much more effective than waffling about yourself. Don’t turn into the person that stops listening until it’s their turn to talk! Like I said, it’s all about balance.
  4. Fun. Relationships can be complicated, difficult and just plain confusing; especially during the teenage years when there’s bitching, gossiping, immaturity, hormones, drama and all that jazz. However, we mustn’t forget that friendship IS about having fun as well as the mutual support. Often having fun comes from just being yourself and letting go. A lot of people seem to think that those who laugh loudest and act craziest have the most fun. Well, I don’t think that’s true at all. Most of the times I’ve had a load of fun have been simply hanging out, walking to and from school and on the odd occasion through a phone call. We didn’t need alcohol. We didn’t have to do anything particularly silly or stupid. We didn’t need to force it. We simply made jokes or chatted or played twister (yes, I know I’m sixteen years old. Yes, it’s still acceptable to play twister, I don’t care what anyone thinks. ) and had some fun.
  5. Sometimes it doesn’t work out. Don’t beat yourself up about it. People change, things change, life moves on. Some friends will stick with you and some won’t-just like you do or don’t for others. Seeing people around school that I was once very close to laughing and talking with people I don’t even know is hard, especially when I wonder how things might have been different if I  hadn’t let our friendship fizzle out. But then I have to remind myself of all the great things I could have missed if that had happened. So the most important thing I believe to remember is to make sure you hold on to the friends you really love, and the for the ones you lose, there will be more to make. And even if you fight and do things you regret, there are ways back if they were (are!) a true friend. I called up my friend who now goes to a different school today. I haven’t seen her in person since October and I couldn’t help feeling kind of sad that I don’t see her everyday like I used to. I don’t make silly doodles in the margins of her notebooks or flick through mine to find hers. She doesn’t sit with me at lunchtime and laugh at the way I eat a panini. We don’t look across the room at each other and laugh at something only we find funny. But that’s okay. I mean, there isn’t going to be someone to do all of those things and be the brilliant person and friend the way she had, but there will be new people that do other things. One day I will look back and there will be so many memories and little things people do that makes part of their personality and part of their friendship with me that I won’t remember them all. That cheers me up.

In the end,the key to friendship and being a good friend is not through a set of rules. There is no recipe (and even if it was, it would be a souffle or something pretty darn hard!).

When you’re little your parents and schoolteachers try to teach you to be kind and respectful and polite. But they don’t teach you how to deal with the huge number of assholes you come across in your life. You have to make your way past them and learn to let go of them when you realise that no, they are not friends, they are simply assholes.

Even when you find the best friend or the group of friends you love, no one tells you that puberty and parents deciding to move across the country and just change in general have chosen to shake everything up like a tacky snowglobe. You land on the ground and have to start rebuilding again, whether it’s your fault or not. And that’s before people start dating. No one warns you that you are going to end up being the fifth wheel on what should be a double date; or that you and your best friend would have a crush on the same person. Or even that you might have to face heartbreak alone.

Friendship is harder than it seems. Often harder than romantic relationships. But I know that it’s worth it. It’s worth all of the tears, all of the lonely years and all of the pain because one day you look around and every face you see you trust and love.

This was a (late, sorry!) response to the writing challenge for Writing 201