As someone who has loved walking since, well since I could walk I find it takes some effort to consider that for most people the natural inclination is to avoid walking rather than walk. On the other hand, I have made walking a central part of my life and if this is not the case for you then I can understand the incredulity when faced with someone who wants to walk in the rain rather than sit cosy and warm somewhere!
So, how come I meandered down this old walking route in life? I am a lifelong walker. An early first memory of mine is of a visit to relatives in Germany, where I, as a two year old, embarked on a countryside outing. Possibly a little overwhelmed by the strangeness and excitement of being in a new place I must have jumped at the chance of going on a bit of a trip outside the city. I recall being on a steep hill (in reality probably a slope) and striding out on my small legs in front of the other people. Noticing that they had dropped behind, I proclaimed in terribly precocious language “come on everybody, let’s persevere” The little girl that I was had already discovered that:
- Walking was something that was good;
- Walking encouraged resilience and gave a great platform for it;
- No-one was going to get in front of me on a walk if I could help it!
Later, when I was a teenager and young carer, I got through hard times by walking, generally around the city as the countryside was not that familiar to me as an Asian girl growing up in Birmingham. I guess there were plenty of hard times. However, when things got tough I just put on my shoes and walked, for what seemed like hours sometimes, my mind gently letting go of issues and settling into a calm state in time with my footsteps. At that time, as I note, I did not even think of walking as being a leisure activity: I just innately knew that it was something that would make me feel better about life. In addition it didn’t cost anything, a big consideration at the time.
It was during my university years and my early years at work that I discovered the joys of walking in the countryside. Mixing walking with nature, I had finally found my spiritual home in terms of the whole walking vibe! I discovered a community of people with a shared interest in donning outdoor gear and tramping around, sometimes up hills and sometimes across muddy fields but with the express intention of spending the day walking.
Embracing the amazing efficacy of walking, I started to work it into my daily routine. At work, I’d make excuses in my mind to walk and made walking the punctuation for my day. So, if there was a meeting to attend and it was relatively local, I’d forget the car and walk there instead. With a little planning this was almost always just as quick as driving, finding somewhere to park and all the pfaffing around that goes with using a car for short work journeys. Arriving at these meetings provided an opportunity to share bits of observation I had made en route, which proved to be a good ice-breaker at times. Walking gave me a uniqueness that marked me out as an individual rather than a corporate clone. It was not just personality that walking ascribed to me either: I discovered that I walking refreshed my mind and out of nowhere I could pull ideas and potentially useful information. In fact, the more walking I did, the more benefits seem to flow. This was all before even considering the health benefits; okay I felt good, healthy and strong but when you are young I think you take this for granted most of the time.
My interest in walking as contributing to solutions for almost all of life’s problems has come in the last few years. As the routine of everyday became, in some ways, much easier thanks to technology and as we have become ever more hooked on the ubiquitous social media and online leisure pursuits, so there has been a corresponding decrease in activity for most people, accompanied by new problems like rocketing obesity, anxiety, falling productivity and security. The level of anxiety around us all increased and turning to Google for answers just exposed us to more and more faddish advice, or sucked us into the trap of becoming reliant on unhealthy activities. There surely needed to be something out there for people who did not want to stare at a screen all day, something simple and not dependent upon gadgets, or (in an age where it is becoming hard to find and distinguish the real friends from the hangers-on), dependent on anyone else? Moreover, an activity that anyone could do, whatever size or age and without fear of being judged. Something that was progressive, so that you could do more as your enthusiasm and ability improved?
Cue my renewed evangelism about walking. As an antidote to sitting in front of screens, and to tone down all that stress that life today seems infused with a slug of old-school Enid Blyton style adventure, walking seemed, in my mind to fill a void.
Therefore, I still make excuses to walk and now I write about how walking has enriched my life. If I have to go to a shop, I walk. I make excuses in my part-time front line healthcare job to walk. If I have friends round I suggest a walk. When I have time spare from my writing and podcasting, I walk. I know there are others like me! When do you make excuses to walk?
(this post incorporates extracts from my book ‘At Walking Pace’ available on Amazon, you can also listen to the At Walking Pace podcast on Anchor, Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts (https://anchor.fm/s/3ef670b4/podcast/rss).