What is the habit you may have unknowingly developed in lockdown that has huge health benefits for your long term Mental and Physical Health? Why is this habit so important to continue and entrench into your daily lifestyle going forward? How can you make space for this when some form of normality is returned?
During the official lockdown of the country due to Coronavirus one of our few freedoms has been to be able to go outside once per day near your home. This, for a lot of us, has become an essential part of the day to get fresh air and feel that we aren’t caged animals!
Seeing lots of people take advantage of our outdoor space has been great. More people going for walks, going for runs, cycling and spending time with loved ones outdoors embracing the fresh air.
You may have also seen a lot of 5km and donate £5 to the NHS challenges completed on social media not to mention 99-year-old Captain Tom Moore who walked 100 laps of his garden before his 100th birthday raising more than £23m for the NHS! Amazing inspiration for all of us to get outside and move!
Discovering a love for running and walking
Although the canal towpaths I normally run down were not safe to use during the lockdown, I am very grateful that our local park is vast and has plenty of space to run and not come close to anyone!
I have not been able to do my usual MMA training which is a huge part of my lifestyle and an important way to manage my Mental and Physical health. Instead, I have focused on running and racking up the miles. I started running back in December (when the thought of running more than 5km seemed hard work and boring!)
While away in Thailand in January I began to run longer distances, completing 10km and 15km runs in the heat! I wanted to bring that progress back with me and am incredibly grateful we have been allowed to exercise outdoors.
When I’m not running, I am making sure that I am getting out and walking for a decent length of time. There are so many benefits to just walking that are often overlooked. The mental clarity, dopamine and health and wellness impacts of walking are not to be ignored.
I am not suggesting that you start pounding the roads and running marathons, that’s just been my journey. However, what I am suggesting is that you focus on the common denominator which is step count and movement.
I hope that we have all begun to appreciate this simple pleasure of going outdoors. It’s something that I think a lot of us probably overlooked in our busy day to day lives before Coronavirus.
The benefits of walking on your Mental and Physical health
Walking has hugely positive impacts on both your Physical and Mental Health.
The government guidelines are to achieve 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. That equates to 30mins, five days a week (but only a third of people achieve this!). With 61% of Adults and 30% of Children in the UK considered overweight or obese, it’s vital that we look to address this.
Regular walking will improve your cardiovascular health, reduce the risk of CHD and diabetes, reduce the risk of osteoporosis, helps lower blood pressure and, of course, helps manage weight.
Physically active people have also been shown to have 26-30% reduction in the chance of developing depression. It’s not just a preventative measure. Exercise can have fantastic results in dealing with existing Mental Health Issues and Illnesses.
Benefits of walking include greater self-esteem, improved sleep, improved mood (by endorphin release), stress relief, improved memory, decreased anxiety and improved cognitive function!
For me it has really given space and time to reflect on things, process thoughts and difficult emotions, feel great and burn off some steam! (Because I can’t punch anything). I used to wear earphones all the time, but now I have really embraced the pleasure of running and walking, listening to my surroundings, processing ideas and just being mindful in the moment!
Creativity and walking
Steve Jobs, Sigmund Freud, Charles Dickens and Darwin, Beethoven, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey (the co-founder of twitter) were all known for their enthusiasm for walking.
Beethoven used to walk to enhance his creativity, taking pen and paper with him should he get any ideas. Charles Dickens used to rack up considerable miles (30 miles a day) to process thoughts and Charles Darwin used to do laps of a path to solve difficult problems.
Mark Zuckerberg is a big fan of walking meetings, allowing ideas to flow naturally and he believes that it provides a good environment for serious discussions.
Surely if all these elite people in their fields encourage this often overlooked movement then maybe there’s something to it ey?
In fact, a study at Stanford University discovered that walking enhanced the creativity of 100% of participants in developing a high-quality idea compared to just 50% while sitting. So if you need to think of some good ideas? Get walking!
Changing our attitude to walking
I think in our day to day lives we are used to just walking to get somewhere. Even then we are looking for the most convenient route or quickest option, which often includes public transport.
Our cities and societies have been created with speed and efficiency in mind, not our health! In fact, Dan Beuttener has done a huge amount of research into “Blue Zones” where they have the highest concentration of centenarians and thus have the healthiest lifestyles. From this, he has discovered that movement and keeping active is a huge part of longevity.
He now has a blueprint that he takes to cities looking at redeveloping them into Blue Zone cities. A huge part of this is ensuring that they are built around pedestrians so that we are encouraged to walk to work, to the shops, out for pleasure and to do all of it safely. I highly recommend his book “Blue zones of Happiness” it’s really an interesting read!
Anyway, I digress.
I am hoping that the current situation with Covid19 has helped us realise all the health benefits that walking brings for our mind and body. If we learn to appreciate the benefits and focus on all the positives, then maybe this will encourage us to find more time to walk in our day to day life.
Maybe we even continue this habit once things go back to “normal” and we make sure we are getting in some time walking in daily and in nature at least several times a week. Potentially replacing old less healthy habits, such as TV or going to the pub, with healthier ones such as nice walks in the countryside (although who doesn’t enjoy pub lunch after a big walk?).
Even if you do not enjoy it at first, given time and consistency you will realise the health benefits and may start to enjoy it as part of your healthy lifestyle.
Small steps in the right direction
So often we are sold on making big changes to our lifestyle or buying X product or a certain supplement claiming it will change our lives and sure maybe that’s sometimes true (although rarely is). However, we overlook the small steps that will make a huge difference in the long term.
Walking daily will have huge impacts on both your physical and mental health and shouldn’t be underestimated. Generally, we don’t need to buy products, supplements, follow rigid diet protocols and smash ourselves into the ground with hardcore workout plans.
It’s the consistency of simple principles that will carry on to have profound effects on your Physical and Mental health. It may not happen instantly. Patience is key.
If you implement some of these things into your lifestyle, before you know it, you will be living a far healthier and fulfilled life.
Small mindful healthy choices lead to increased self-esteem and self-awareness. Given time they will lead to more good choices for your mind and body.
It just starts with positive consistent steps in the right direction. As the Monk in Thailand kept instructing us trainee meditators. Step by Step. Step by Step!
My top tips for incorporating a walking habit into your daily life
Reflect on the benefits of walking to create a healthy habit
Understanding the value to your health will help you create new healthy habits. Install this into you and it will help you make those healthy choices to move more.
Incrementally increase the number of steps you walk
A pedometer watch or on an app is a great way to increase how far you currently move by giving yourself incremental targets to up your activity. If you cannot get an app or movement tracker then just time how long you are walking for. We want the minimum amount of barriers to you starting!
Find opportunities to walk.
If you are using public transport or driving to work can you get off a stop earlier? Or park a little further away? It may not seem like much but it adds up and a walk in the morning will get your head working better ready for the day! Step by step.
On your lunch break walk!
Lunch breaks ideally could be spent walking outside in the fresh air, whatever time of year it is! It’s an ideal time to get some steps in, get fresh air and wake yourself up without stimulants.
Join a walking group
Can’t encourage your friends to walk with you? Then join a walking group. https://www.meetup.com/ is great for finding these groups. It’s a great way to also meet new people! (Once we are allowed of course!)
Change the environment in which you walk
Can you find a pocket of nature to walk in? Have a look on google maps and see if there are any parks, canal side, lakes, nature reserves, and woodland to explore. The more variety we can get in our walks the better!
Take the steps, not the Lift or escalator.
Choices, choice, choices. Always take the steps, simple! It’s another great opportunity to get the blood pumping.
Walk your kids to school
Can you walk your kids to school? Or if you have to drive then can you park a distance away to get some steps in. It’s a great opportunity to spend time with your kids and lead by example.
Listen to a podcast or audiobook, or call a friend
If you really struggle to get into it then it’s a great opportunity to listen to some podcasts, an audiobook, call a friend (or ya Nan!) or some music. This is often a great start to get going and you never know you may find a love for it and not need anything!
I started running about 5 months ago. 5km was my regular distance and 10km was a big ask and felt daunting and I never ran without headphones in!
Fast forward 4 months of consistency.
10km is now my minimum distance (I run at least 3x a week). I often run without headphones to just be in the moment and I upped my distance considerably completing my own little Ultramarathon (55km) around my local park 5 weeks ago!
This just shows how taking things step by step, one day at a time can really lead you to places you would never dream possible! Sometimes it’s best just to take things day by day and not look at the big picture.
Creating a lifestyle that supports our Mental and Physical health is essential to living happy, healthy and fulfilled lives.
This one element of your lifestyle could be a real game-changer for your life and has the potential to have huge knock-on effects for your health, your sense of self-awareness, your confidence, creativity and your decision making.
So carry on moving, carry on being out in nature, carry on spending quality time with your friends and family outdoors.
Your dream lifestyle is just a few steps away. All you have to do is take them. Step by Step.