My first thought on walking used to be for exercise. Get out of the door. 20 minutes a day to get your steps in. Burn some calories.
But the more I walk, the more I gain from walking.
I sometimes walk with my partner, family, or friends. Mostly though, I walk alone.
I work from home now. I have for a few years. It would be easy to not move. To find this excuse or that.
There’s a chore that needs doing.
I haven’t finished my work.
I have a hobby I need to devote some time to.
The key to all this is that if I walk all those things get done anyway - and then some.
If I don’t walk - it’s likely that I won’t get everything done.
Crazy right? But it’s true.
Taking time out of my day to walk actually makes me more productive - not less.
How can that be?
Of course, there’s the obvious benefit of the boost to the metabolism that any exercise gives us. But this is something more.
Rainy days and Mondays ...
On Monday the weather wasn’t great, it had been raining and it was quite windy. Typical British weather for June in fact.
It would have been easy not to go out. I knew that. I had all my excuses lined up and ready.
I also knew that if I didn’t go out, the chances of my evening being productive were much lower.
So I went out. Armed with a waterproof coat in case of a downpour, and my bank card to treat myself to something for tea on the way back.
I live in a town. But I’m lucky to have open countryside a ten-minute walk away.
Once I’m there I forget all about the struggle to persuade myself out of the door.
It’s so peaceful. I hardly see a soul. An occasional dog-walker will cross my path, but for the most part, I’m alone.
The fog of the day starts to clear. I become absorbed by my journey. My mini-adventure. I’m always thrilled to note the changes in the landscape from the last time I was there. Yesterday the grasses had grown so much in a week they now reach above my waist.
A little rain following the warm week and everything had evolved. New flowers had bloomed. The hedge is now full of fragrant honeysuckle.
Bird song fills the air. I can no longer hear the distant thrum of traffic from the main road. My mind zeroed in on my passage through this wonderland.
It’s then that I realise - walking is as much for the mind as the body.
Yes, my body needs exercise, and I crave the fresh air. But what I’m desperate for more than anything is a reset. An escape from the agenda of the day and from my brain trying to decide what the next most important task to tackle is.
The chatter in my head has ceased. It’s replaced by an all-encompassing calm that allows my mind a chance to rest and regenerate.
I stay away from the road as much as I can. I prefer to stick to the endless criss-cross of footpaths and bridleways. I’ve made my escape, even if only for a short while.
I’m not sure how long I walk for. It doesn’t matter. Today I need to break out of my structure and allow myself space to unwind.
I return calm and happy. I don’t do much in the evening, apart from cook myself a nice dinner - it’s quite late after all.
The next morning I wake before the alarm, feeling refreshed. A reset has occurred. The walk has done the trick.
The Sciencey bit ...
So what’s the science behind it?
Walking, like any exercise, increases blood flow around the body and brain. This has a positive effect on our nervous system. If we are feeling stressed, taking a walk is a great way to calm down.
Studies have shown that walking provides huge benefits for brain health:
It slows the degeneration of cells,
Improves blood flow to the brain bringing in essential nutrients and removing toxins,
Helps improve memory, and
Walking releases endorphins into the brain and nervous system. Endorphins, or “happy hormones”, reduce feelings of pain and increase feelings of pleasure. They’re also thought to help with appetite regulation.
It’s also a great way to make sure you get enough Vitamin D to keep your bones healthy.
If you're able, walking is also the easiest and cheapest of activities. You don't have to be in peak physical condition. You choose how long and how far you walk. And you don't need any special equipment. Simply put on your shoes and go.
I can’t get no sleep
The night before last I couldn’t sleep. I had a dreadful night. I know what I did wrong. I spent too much time on my phone and computer. I didn’t give myself time to relax before bed.
I never used to have problems sleeping. It’s only been a problem for the last couple of years. I don’t like it.
Not wanting to face another night of the same, I decided to get myself out of the door as soon as I’d finished work.
Last night’s walk was glorious - the sun was shining and there was a gentle breeze. I set off with the intention to walk for around an hour. Up the hill, away from the town I go. In less than 10 minutes I’m in the open countryside.
The hedgerows have found their unruliness, pushing in all directions. Recovering from their hard winter pruning. Birdsong fills the air.
I take my first footpath through a smallholding. The farmer is cutting down the long grasses that have grown in the field for hay.
I enter a small copse and send blackbirds chittering into the treetops.
Continuing my journey through the fields I can see for miles across the landscape. Over a stile, then another, and I’m into a new woodland.
The owners planted it in 2006, but it’s already well established and there’s already so much to see. Clouds of small butterflies lift into the air in my path. I’m absorbed in my surroundings. Nothing matters here other than navigating my path and taking in all the sights and sounds.
The path continues over a stile into a wheat field - here I meet my first walker, going the other way. She’s taking her dog out for a wander, he’s a lovely red puppy. We exchange a few words and move on.
I pass through another cut field and then into a pasture, now devoid of sheep. The grass is short and lush. I stop to take a photo of a majestic oak in the middle of the field. Over another stile and into a narrow track that becomes a bridleway.
This track doesn’t get much sunlight. The imposing trees keep it in shadow. But later in the year plump sloes with fill the blackthorn bushes that line the route.
It’s muddy underfoot and I tread with care. I’ve discovered I can loop back onto a parallel track which means I can avoid the roads completely. The landscape and flora are always changing. A bright new flower, a butterfly, a squirrel skittering up a tree, all catch my eye.
Eventually, I arrive at my favourite resting spot. A small lake on the outskirts of the wood. I stop to take a break. Moorhens and coots dive, the lilies are getting ready to bloom. All I can hear is the rustle of the wind through the bullrushes and the ever-present birdsong.
I exchange a few words with a young couple who arrive whilst I’m there and then go on my way. I decide to go back through the young forest. Someone has mown the footpath - it’s a job well done. The last time I came this way nature had almost succeeded in reclaiming the path. The grass was so high It was almost impassable.
I pass the stile and decide to walk the road back home. The sun is lower now. I don’t see one car. There are a few other walkers coming up the road as I arrive at the edge of the houses. By the time I reach home I’ve been out for almost two and a half hours!
I’m at peace once more. My brain has let go of all the stress that’s built up inside me during the day.
Holding on tight to that feeling, I make a decision not to use my computer or my phone before bed.
Last night I slept well, this morning I’m refreshed and ready for my day. Walking has worked its magic again.
When life gets too much, step off the treadmill and onto the footpath. I promise you won’t regret it.
With much love and encouragement,
The Reluctant Achiever
The Reluctant Achiever is written by professional copywriter Wendy Ann Jones.