The pandemic, which began more than a year ago, has left most of us scrambling to keep our lives and minds stitched together as best we can; how we do so differs dramatically from person to person. Some of you might have found solace in year-round spring cleans, or perhaps you’ve found comfort in food, be it binge-eating your favourites or testing out new meals for dinner, or maybe you’ve gone a step above, delving into the science that is baking. But for me, I found walking to be the best tool for keeping my sanity in check.
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I found in the last few months walking has allowed me to appreciate my world at a slower pace; taking it slow has granted me the opportunity to enjoy my surroundings properly, and with this newfound appreciation, I’ve been able to become familiar with my home, away from the unfamiliar blur it had become before the pandemic struck.
Walking for exercise
Walking has a range of benefits, the most important of which is its accessibility. Due to a shortage of fitness facilities and the closure of gyms, walking has become my key method of exercise. When it comes to exercise, walking has shown me what I’ve been lacking both in regards to my physical health as well and mental. I’ve built a healthy relationship with exercise since I began walking; I’m no longer as concerned with immediate results as I am with just enjoying the process. Walking is perfect for the slow nature of these lockdowns as it can only yield results over time.
When I first realised that gyms being closed wasn’t just going to be a two-month endeavour, I foolishly threw myself into the deep end of cardio, adding an extensive running program to my weekly routine, but with this I found my motivation for everything else in life went to the wayside; be it keeping up a social life with my friends digitally or making sure my house was in a liveable state.
And because of this vigorous running routine, I would come home from a long run and just gorge myself with food and sleep to try and battle the inevitable exhaustion that would come with using up so much energy, to the detriment of all the hard work that went into the run.
There are great ways of getting into running, but the way I went about it wasn’t one of them. So, one day with a defeatist attitude, I decided to walk my usual route instead of running it, and during this physically drained stroll I fell in love with the simple nature of walking.
The mental health benefits of walking
These pandemic walks are more than just a gym replacement. Every stroll has become a blessing for me. It’s an excellent way to take a deep breath when living during this pandemic. It seems even in the foggiest of pandemic days, a walk can give respite from the ever-building stress of lockdowns. Indeed, researchers actually recommend a secluded walk in times of hardship and reflection.
Using walks as respite has helped me acknowledge that gaining a bit of normalcy in a pandemic is a rare experience that fortunately not every generation has to face. Strangely, by acknowledging this fact, walking begins to have a sense of urgency and comfort to it. As a result of this acknowledgement, you are forced to answer a difficult question when you’re trapped in such a small area: do you treat your 5 km limit as a prison or a home? Over time, it became clear to me that it was a home. I fell in love with my limited surroundings as much as I fell in love with the act of walking.
Socially distanced socialising
Walking alone during the pandemic can be relaxing, and before the level 5 restrictions were once again brought in after Christmas, socially distanced walks with friends became a common way for many of us to stay connected in these lonely times. I am now counting down the days to when I can once again go for walks with friends, and meet up for a takeaway coffee.
When it comes to socially-distant quality time, I found that nothing beats going for a walk with family and friends. Walking helps us put our phones down and engage in rich contemplative discussions that strengthen relationships and generate new ideas for what we should do once the world has gone back to normal.
If you fell in love with walking and want to continue the tradition after the pandemic has ended, you are lucky in that Ireland has a plethora of walking clubs where you can meet up with other like-minded people to chat and learn about the beautiful country we can wander through, once we are able to travel again.
The Beauty of Walking in a Locked-Down World
As the weather warms and the pandemic continues to keep us mostly confined to our homes, I plan to put on some shorts and continue my quest to learn more about the locality I can explore. Walking supported me in turning a bad year into something more bearable. So much lies ahead that will continue to challenge, traumatise, and push our capacity to endure despair to the max, but walking has taught me that the only way out of this pandemic is to simply place one foot in front of the other and keep going.