During lockdown it’s likely you’ve embraced some kind of new exercise, from full on HIIT workouts to running or cycling. But there’s one you might not have considered – walking.
If, where you live, a daily walk is permitted, you might have had a few strolls round the block, looking at people’s driveways, pondering the state of their curtains, blinds or front gardens.
I was the same – until recently. After years of running – including the London Marathon in 2005 – a leg injury left me unable to do it anymore.
But I missed the buzz of a good dose of cardio. A friend challenged me to run 5k for a charity initiative, but I knew it would mean real damage to my leg.
I could walk 5k though, surely! So I made the decision to up my walking game with a much longer wander than my usual daily one – and it’s brought so many benefits, physically and mentally.
More than a stroll
Rather than just circling my local streets, I decided to commit to the longer walk one sunny Sunday, to see how it felt. I took a route to a large park about one mile from my home – Finsbury Park in North London.
Then I did a lap of the park and returned home. The whole walk was, to my surprise, almost 6km.
With my route mapped out, I decided I’d walk it as often as possible – every day if I could. And I wouldn’t just be walking, I’d be walking with purpose – with some pace and drive in my steps.
Treating walking almost like a ‘slow jog’, I found my heart rate increasing and my breath shortening, just like on a run, but without the pressure to ‘keep running’.
There’s less emotional pressure
As a runner, I found a lot of emotional pressure – from hoiking on my sports bra (not the most comfortable item!) to making sure I had the right music downloaded to help me hit a good pace.
Walking just feels different – it feels odd to say I get the same buzz as running but with less emotional stress, but it’s true!
When running, there’s the bother of avoiding people as you’re going at pace, whereas with walking you can go past with more control.
I don’t feel the same pressure to perform when walking either, but I do feel the same ache in my legs – so that’s got to be a win!
You really see nature around you
When you’re jogging, running or cycling, the world can whizz by in a bit of a blur. Not so with walking. You can still get a good walking pace going while noticing everything from blossom, to a rainbow drawn in chalk on the ground.
I’ve found I’ve been more aware of the sounds around me, too, when walking instead of running. From the honk of geese living on a small waterway near my home, to laughter and different languages as I circle the park.
That includes wildlife
From goats to peacocks, people are reporting that wildlife is coming into their towns as the streets and roads are emptier.
Seeing everything from a rare bird to a friendly dog are great mood boosters – and that’s more likely when you’re walking rather than wiping sweat from your eyes on a run.
Changing the scenery
You don’t have to embrace nature – there’s plenty of cityscape to take in on a walk, too, if you choose. You can plan a route that takes in a landmark – natural or man-made, the choice is yours.
It gives you time to think
I’ve often seen exercise as an escape – a way to sweat it out and forget all the thoughts rushing through my brain. Walking, it seemed, was too slow and would allow me to think too much. When you think a lot anyway, that’s not great!
But, actually, I’ve realised it can be meditative. Walking with purpose actually helps bring more positivity to my thought process, as I step it out around the park and begin to feel more grateful for the green space near my home, and the fact I am permitted to go there.
Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s an easier option – if you walk with purpose for a good distance, you’ll feel it in those leg muscles, I can promise you!
I’ve gone from pounding the pavement to feeling more like I’m hugging it. There’s a grounded feeling you can tap into on a walk; rather than the spring of a run, you have the power of a stride.
Running always felt very destination-focused for me, about getting to the distance end goal. Walking feels much more journey-focused and that’s helped me find balance in these uncertain times.