I am sure I am not alone when I say that this winter has been one of the dreariest seasons in recent memory. I am not a big winter guy at the best of times, but with the season’s usual saving graces - evenings hunkered down in the pub, Christmas parties, New Year’s Eve festivities - taken off the table, this bleak lockdown winter has brought a lot of boredom and very little distraction.
So, in an effort to divert my focus from the doom and gloom of a January in quarantine, I gave a little more focus to my New Year’s resolutions than I usually would. As always, one of my resolutions was to do more exercise - an unprecedented and totally original goal!
Getting out and exercising more is something that I resolve to do pretty much every time a new year rolls around and, unsurprisingly, it is a target that I consistently fail to meet. But this year, the early signs are good; I am exercising three times a week, and my mood is noticeably improved. Admittedly, we are literally three weeks into the year, and New Year’s resolutions are infamously rarely kept, but so far so good.
I am not telling you this for the purpose of bragging, or to preach about how good I feel about my progress so far, on the contrary, I have to say that I am pretty miffed about it. All of those times I was moping around the house and my mum told me to get outside and do some exercise, all of those times that people went on and on about how much better they felt after going to the gym or doing their daily run - it turns out they were right. Infuriating.
No, the purpose of this post is to pronounce walking as the king of exercise. While runs and workouts have certainly brought me plenty of endorphins, this largely comes after the fact, and the actual activity itself remains a bit of a chore for me. A good walk, on the other hand? Having taken to spending most of my weekends walking around, either alone or with friends, I have found it remarkable the difference a walk makes to how relaxed and optimistic I feel, and I don’t even have to get a sweat on or put myself in pain to do so!
If there is one thing that I will take away from this year of lockdowns, it’s that there are few greater ways of spending a Saturday than heading out for a nice long meander around your local area (and no further, of course, officer!). This is hardly a ground-breaking piece of advice, I will admit, but it has taken the closure of pubs, restaurants and cafes to reveal to me how much there is to see and explore in the world around me.
I recently read Gone Fishing, the book based on Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse’s therapeutic fishing show, and although I am not a fisherman myself, the book’s focus on going out and properly immersing yourself in your surroundings really resonated with me. It is rare that we actually go out with the express purpose of taking in the sights of our local area, but there is something very gratifying in doing so.
This is an idea that is echoed in Amy Fleming’s great piece in the Guardian, which provides us with a series of ways of adding purpose to our daily walks around the block. From bird watching, to mindfulness, to walking your route in reverse in order to spot new sights, there are loads of great tips in there.
As much as I am scared that the pandemic has turned me into a 23-year-old middle-aged man, I have accepted that I must resign myself to the fact that I am now a walking guy. Have a read of Amy’s article, grab your thermos and join me!
The weather is rubbish, there is nowhere to go and, bereft of the joys of spring, the daily lockdown walk can feel pointless. But, of course, it is not: the mental and physical health perks of exercise are immune to seasonal changes. We need to gallivant around outside in daylight so that our circadian rhythms can regulate sleep and alertness. (Yes, even when the sky is resolutely leaden, it is still technically daylight.) Walking warms you up, too; when you get back indoors, it will feel positively tropical. But if meeting these basic needs isn’t enough to enthuse you, there are myriad ways to add purpose to your stride and draw your attention to the underappreciated joys of winter walking.