How to fall back in love with walking again (if you’re over it)

    Man walking througyh countryside in jacket in sunshine
    Published: 7 May 2021. Written by Howard Calvert.

    Got lockdown walking fatigue? Here are 7 inspiring ways to help you clock up those steps. If lockdown had one positive effect, it was that it forced many of us outdoors, blinking into the unfamiliar sunshine. 

    Due to government restrictions, for huge swathes of people walking was the only exercise option, with travel limited to walkable distance, and team sports and indoor group exercise on hold. 

    At first, many of us wandered aimlessly into the nearest green space in an attempt to escape our screens and encourage our hearts to work a little harder. But as time went on we scanned Google Maps, researched new routes and began to relish tackling challenging hills. Soon, walking became a daily habit to look forward to rather than dread.

    The fitness app Strava revealed that in February 2021, the number of walkers in London and the South East was 6.3 times higher than the previous year, and a National Travel Survey revealed that 38 per cent of walkers are walking more than they were pre-pandemic.

    These figures are positive news. However, after multiple months of treading the same now-familiar routes, you can be forgiven for feeling a little uninspired. Seeing the same cow peering at you uninterestingly from across a meadow, nodding hello to the same dog walker… it can all become somewhat dispiriting!  

    What we all need is a dose of excitement. And as May is National Walking Month, it’s the perfect time to fill your Thermos and hit the trails with renewed enthusiasm by taking inspiration from our tips.

    1. Walk without purpose 

    Friend and couple walking through cornfields together in sunshine

    These days, we’re bombarded with statistics: steps taken, calories burned, heart rate maxed. While this data can unquestionably help you train towards goals and monitor your fitness journey, sometimes it can be beneficial to set off on your walk with no specific purpose. 

    The aim is straightforward: instead of walking to arrive at a predetermined destination, simply head out of the door with no other thought than putting one foot in front of the other, then repeating until you are back at your front door.

    American author and naturalist Henry David Thoreau was a huge advocate of rambling, and in his 1862 essay ‘Walking’ advised that you ‘must walk like a camel, which is said to be the only beast which ruminates when walking’.  

    This is the definition of ‘sauntering’, where you walk without distraction or purpose, and eventually – usually after around 30 minutes – fall deep into your own thoughts, entering what could be described as a meditative state. It’s at this point that you leave behind your anxious thoughts, meaning you return to your desk refreshed, head brimming with ideas.

    2. Join a walking group

    Group of three older women walking through the streets

    Jody Woolcock, ACAI Outdoorwear adventurer and founder of walking group Cornish Ramblings, recommends joining a local walking group as they provide the opportunity to make new friends as well as seeing new sites and visiting locations you’ve always wanted to, but may have felt out of your comfort zone doing so alone.  

    ‘Walking groups are particularly great for those nervous about walking lesser-trodden paths,’ she says. ‘Not only will you find people with common interests, but there will also always be someone to offer words of encouragement when traversing a steep incline. In my walking group, many new friendships have formed which have encouraged them to head out for a walk more often than they may have done before.’

    And there’s more than just your traditional local ramblers’ club out there: you can now try Nordic walking, orienteering, geocaching, race walking, walking groups for singles, walking groups for different ages or single-sex groups. Search Facebook groups to find local meet-ups, or Woolcock recommends scouring Instagram for inspiration.

    ‘Search for terms like #walkingbritain, #walk1000miles, #walkinggroup, #roamtheuk and #cornishramblingswalks – you’ll find it can be an amazing source of inspiration and a great way of connecting with fellow walkers.’

    Don’t forget to join our Vitality Facebook group if you haven’t already. This is a place for our members to connect with one another, our team of Vitality Coaches who provide daily workouts and tips, plus you can ask other members for their advice!

    3. Give ‘soundwalking’ a go

    Man walking through the woods practicing soundwalking

    Listening carefully to what’s around you while you walk is called ‘soundwalking’, and was invented in the 1970s as part of the World Soundscape Project.

    There are apps that can assist you while soundwalking – Soundwalker and Echoes, for example, provide guided walks that play content, such as sounds, poems, stories and music, while you follow a set route. 

    But if you want to strip things down further, simply pay closer attention to your surroundings as you walk. Start by noting the sounds your own body makes – your breath, heart and feet, and work outwards to noises in the nearby vicinity – birds singing (use a birdsong identification app like Warblr), machinery, water flowing, vehicles or music. 

    The idea is that as you attune yourself to your surroundings, you become more in tune with your environment, creating a similar sense of wellbeing as mindfulness. In the process, you will also engage more closely with wildlife and your locality.

     4. Master your posture

    Three friends going for a hike walking through the wilderness

    Any of us with a desk-bound job knows that sitting for eight hours a day is playing havoc with our health and posture. Multiple studies have shown that it can lead to an increased BMI and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, as well as resulting in problems with joints, muscles and spine curvature.

    Trying to undo these negative effects is a long-term project, but you can make a start by working on improving your posture on your daily walk. 

    Shane Benzie is a movement specialist whose book The Lost Art of Running examines movement and running form. Regarding posture, he extols the virtues of having an ‘elastic body’ – specifically the idea of a giant, imaginary elastic band running from your toes to the top of your forehead. 

    If you walk upright and tall, the elastic band will tighten, ‘creating a natural recoil that provides energy and propels your muscles’. As he says in his book, if you want to move efficiently and effectively, you need to make use of this natural elasticity. Spend every walk focusing on this and you will soon be walking taller and more upright.

    5. Walk to be creative

    Man with dog walking on top of mountain top

    A 2014 study by Stanford University found that walking can boost your creative output by 60 per cent by stimulating your divergent thinking and ability to explore alternative solutions – so why not set yourself the goal of going for a walk then creating something immediately afterwards? 

    It could be a piece of art, a poem, photography or starting on that novel that’s been swirling round the back of your mind. Alternatively, it might be something as simple as baking a cake or working on a flower arrangement. 

    If inspiration strikes while you are walking, do what many writers do and use your phone to take voice notes. Then, when you return, let those creative juices flow.

    6. Try the OS Maps app

    Woman looking at phone whilst out for a walk

    ‘One of the main reasons we lose enthusiasm with hiking is when we keep repeating the same routes, which is something we’ve had to put up with during lockdown,’ explains David Scotland, owner of camping retailer Outdoor World Direct.

    Now that the stay-at-home orders have been relaxed, it’s the perfect time to discover new routes in neighbouring areas. ‘One of the best ways to do this is to browse Ordnance Survey Maps for your chosen locale,’ says Scotland. ‘If you download the OS Maps app, you can try out other users’ routes. You can submit your own too, by allowing OS Maps to record your route to track distance, elevation and more, and then other users can rate your route. Sometimes all we need is a little variety, so trying out OS Maps and similar apps can help you discover new trails.’

    7. Take your time 

    Women out walking in the spring sunshine in the woods

    If you’re feeling anxious about returning to the new normal with large-scale meet-ups with crowds, queues and all the hustle and bustle we’ve missed out on over the past 18 months, you’re not alone. A survey by the Office for National Statistics found that 48 per cent of people said their wellbeing has been affected by the pandemic. And according to Healthspan, the average adult has seen their anxiety levels increase by 50 per cent during lockdown, with those aged 60+ seeing the biggest increase. 

    The next few months are all about easing yourself back into reality, and that’s where walking comes in. Instead of arranging to meet your friends in a pub garden, why not arrange to meet them in a car park at the start of a challenging walk? That way, you can spend a few hours catching up in the open countryside without worrying about crowds. Then, if you feel up to it, end the walk with a drink in a quieter country pub garden.

    Looking for inspiration for your next walk? Take a look at 7 of the UK’s most stunning walking routes.

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