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This post is by Anthony Savage of Sparta Health

Going to the pub or the cinema feels like a distant memory. Along came Zoom quizzes - the next best thing. But, they faded away quicker than they started. What was next? The daily walk. Yes, the one hour a day we're allowed outside of our house for pleasure. You know it well, I'm sure. So well, the novelty has worn off. The thing is, walking is great for you! It "improves your mood, reduces feelings of stress, anger [and] improves your confidence and self-esteem" [1]. Let's start looking forward to daily walks again. Here's how you can get more out of your daily walk.

Change it Up

We can't go too far from home at the moment. But remember that there is beauty in the everyday. Whilst you may be insanely bored of your usual route, that doesn't mean you're bored of your whole town! Change it up, ask friends what their go-to routes are, and try exploring a new part of your local town. You'll be surprised at what you may find.

Reverse

If you've walked everywhere near you (I highly doubt it), reverse your route! Something that simple can make a big difference. You might spot something you hadn't noticed before, too.

Challenge and Reward

A bit of healthy competition is wonderful for the soul. Try and beat your friend's daily step count. As a consequence, you'll both feel more motivated, and walking will be more purposeful. Or, try and do your route in a faster time. Use "the landmarks you see on your daily stroll and measure the time it takes you to get between them" [2]. Then reward yourself with a nice cuppa or a slice of cake.

Mindful Walking

Mindfulness isn't as hard as it seems. It's simply the act of being "present, focused and aware of your internal and external landscapes in any given moment" [3]. Practising mindfulness can "slow our heart rate and reduce anxiety and depression"[3]. Combine that with the impact of walking, and you've got a winning mental health booster. Not sure where to start? Listen to your footsteps. Are they crunching on frosty grass? Scuffing on the pavement? Focus on your breathing. Breathe in for four steps, hold for four steps, breathe out for four. It will take some time to get used to, try not to overthink it. Relax. And be mindful.

Leave the Phone

Even just having a phone in your pocket is an automatic distraction. You'll be thinking about what's on it. Why not leave it at home? You'll feel as though a weight is lifted. You can focus on your thoughts, and not worry about what Instagram posts you're missing. Who knows, you might feel inspired to write, paint, or cook something new.

The Hills are Alive

Walking doesn't have to be slow-paced and boring. If you wanted, you could turn your daily walk into a workout too. You don't need to strap weights to your wrists, or do ten squats every 5 minutes - though, you absolutely could! But it could be as simple as "heading up hills" because it "naturally increases the intensity of your walk even if you're moving at the same pace or slower" [4]. And, often, walking up a hill is even more strenuous than running. And, the decline is also beneficial. They "activate your core and strengthen your mind-muscle connection as you focus on each step" [4].

Listen

If listening to your surroundings isn't your jam, take your phone and some headphones with you. Listen to your favorite music, unheard music, or even a podcast. Transport yourself as you walk and allow yourself to be in your own little walking bubble - no lockdown pun intended. Research shows that music can "make hard efforts feel easier" [4]. So, if you're walking up a hill, or walking feels like a chore, listen to a boppy playlist.

Hunt for Treasure

Okay, not literal treasure. But there are alternatives! Apps like Treasure Trails or Geocache provide routes and co-ordinates for you to follow. They could lead to a small box with a list for you to sign your name on. Or, they might take you on a journey around your town, encouraging you to look for landmarks you may not have noticed before. Even though there's no gold or physical treasure at the end, your inner child will wake up. There's something so exciting about searching for the 'X' on a map.

Phone Someone

Bring someone on your walk with you via phone call. Stay connected to your friends or family. It's the best time to catch up with those you love. You'll feel like you're out with them because of the change of scenery. And, it's just lovely to have a friendly voice in your ear.

Get Lost On Purpose

Sometimes we get so stuck in our minds that we won't allow ourselves to be truly free. So, get lost. Take routes you've never taken before, and don't look at where you are on a map. Unless of course you're *actually* lost, in which case, find a safe route home! The point is to see the unseen. "There are so many hidden streets and enclaves. They may have no great architectural or historical significance, but they might show a community that's obviously neighbourly and they've all put plant pots outside." [3]

So, there you have it: A few simple, and totally free, ways to make the most out of your daily walks. Try not to put too much pressure in yourself to suddenly enjoy them again. Everything takes time. You're doing great!

About Anthony Savage 

Anthony Savage is the Medical Services Manager at Sparta Health, having joined the team in 2017 and is responsible for the overall operational delivery of our high quality services to our clients. He has a solid background in workplace physiology, health and safety, resilience  as well over 12 years of delivering, and holding senior management positions, for leading injury and condition management providers.

He is known for his innovative approach in his design and execution of services and his ability to build enduring relationships.

References:

  1. How nature benefits mental health [Internet]. www.mind.org.uk. 2018.
  2. Macleod M. Clever ways to make your daily walk way more interesting [Internet]. Get The Gloss. 2020 [cited 2021 Jan 22].
  3. Flemming A. The joy of steps: 20 ways to give purpose to your daily walk [Internet]. the Guardian. 2021 [cited 2021 Jan 22].
  4. Kuzma C. 14 Ways to Make Your Daily Walk Feel Like More of a Workout [Internet]. SELF. 2020 [cited 2021 Jan 22].
Walking

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