Regional tourism agency, Welcome to Yorkshire, has kick-started the new year with its cleverly named “Walkshire” campaign.
As well as enticing visitors to explore Yorkshire’s world-renowned great outdoors on foot once COVID-19 travel restrictions eventually come to an end, the campaign is also encouraging local residents to strap on some sensible shoes and take advantage of the thousands of coastal, countryside and city walking routes on their doorstep.
It’s a brilliant campaign, but even if you aren’t lucky enough to live in God’s Own County, there’s every reason to make 2021 the Year of Walking.
With a new fitness fad seemingly sweeping the media sphere every other month, walking remains an underrated form of exercise. But really, what’s not to love? It’s easy. It’s cheap. You can do it just about anywhere. You don’t need any special equipment– just a decent pair of shoes. And the benefits for body, mind, soul and indeed the planet are extraordinary.
Like many people working from home full-time as a result of the pandemic, I had fallen into some bad habits in terms of fitness. In the first lockdown, when the weather was glorious and the days were long, it was easy to fit in exercise before or after the working day but as we edged into autumn, getting outside during daylight hours became more challenging. It was on a Thursday, when I realised I hadn’t left the house since Sunday, that I knew I needed to make a change.
Serendipitously this realisation coincided with the second lockdown and a post from our Founder and CEO, John Quinton-Barber, on our intranet encouraging us make time during the working day for fresh air and exercise. Here at Social our “Life Happens” value isn’t just a slogan – it is a fundamental part of our organizational culture, and this was yet another example of it in action. If my employer was looking out for my health and wellbeing at a difficult time, it was about time I looked out for it too.
I made the commitment to go for a lunchtime walk every day. Another unhelpful mindset I’d got into was thinking that if I couldn’t don my workout gear and go for a full-on 10km power walk there was no point bothering. But actually, a 10-minute stroll is better than no exercise at all, so off I went – no change of clothing, I just put on my coat and trainers and left the house. By the end of the week I’d racked up 26km.
That’s the power of walking – a small commitment can lead to big changes. I’m now walking on average 4km a day (sometimes more, sometimes less) and feel so much better for it. As well as the physical benefits of getting daily exercise, fresh air and sunshine (gotta top up that Vitamin D in these winter months), I’m seeing mental health and productivity benefits too.
The start of another few weeks of lockdown is an anxious time for everyone, but I find that mindful walking – trying to notice nature while I’m pounding the pavements – is helpful for staying present and stopping my thoughts from racing to the big, scary stuff we’re confronted with every time we turn on the news. After my lunchtime walk, I arrive back at my desk feeling fresh and energised for the afternoon ahead. More than that I find the walking process helpful for sorting through problems and coming up with creative ideas. It’s almost as if something magic happens to my brain when I walk – thoughts that must have been percolating in my subconscious suddenly crystallise and solutions that had previously eluded me become obvious.
Apparently it’s not actually magic but science – walking increases blood flow to the brain and, according to a 2014 study by Stanford University, walking for 20 minutes can boost a person’s creative output by 60 per cent, making it the perfect exercise for those of us working in creative industries like communications. According to an even more eminent source – my husband, an English teacher – the poet Wallace Stevens took a lunchtime walk around his local park every day and that’s when he came up with many of his most famous verses. If walking helped him write great poetry, then surely it can help you nail that tricky spreadsheet you’ve been grappling with?
So if you’re looking for a New Year’s resolution you’ll actually stick to, commit to walking every day. Here are my top tips for getting the most out of your daily walk:
1. Block out time in your diary – scheduling in your daily walk helps make sure it’s a priority doesn’t get forgotten among the daily onslaught of video calls
2. Start out small – commit to a 10 minute walk a day and build from there. You’ll probably surprise yourself by how far you actually walk in a week.
3. Dress appropriately – you don’t need expensive shoes or workout gear but make sure you’ve got a decent pair of flat shoes and are dressed for whatever the British weather might throw at you!
4. Walk mindfully – it can be tempting to keep your head down and listen to a podcast or playlist but taking time to notice your surroundings while out on a walk increases the mental health benefits even further
5. Track your progress – use an app or FitBit to log your steps. Short walks add up over time and seeing how far you’ve come will encourage you to continue. Once you’ve made it a habit, set yourself some goals – I’ve challenged myself to walk the equivalent of John O’Groats to Lands End (1,083 miles) throughout 2021.
6. Be COVID-safe – take hand sanitiser with you, particularly if you need to pass through gates or stiles, and make sure you remain socially distant from others while walking.
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It’s been a pleasure to work with the team from Social. It’s been a seamless process and the end product was exactly as we briefed.
Jonathan North, Digital Communications Manager, UK Sport