Give Us This Day Our Daily Walk

I wish I could take credit for the title but that must go to my friend Julie who coined it during lockdown.  For most people, the ‘Stay at Home’ message was tempered only by the chance to get outside once a day for exercise.  As far as I can tell, for the vast majority of people, that was going for a walk.  Yes, the temptation was there to go for a run or get on your bike but frankly if you were trying to juggle home-working, home-schooling and sanity management, walking always seemed like the sensible option.

I am a walker through and through. I dislike being sweaty and out of breath unless absolutely necessary (it is necessary, I get it, but in short choreographed bursts only then thanks). Walking though… let me count the ways in which I love it. It’s pretty much universally accessible, it’s open to all in a non-threatening fashion, you don’t need fancy equipment, it can morph from ‘me time’ to ‘social’, maintains good physical and mental health and allows for mindful decompression better than anything else I know. Enough praise? Ok, enough for now. I’ll be back with more shortly.
I’ve known Julie for more than 30 years and many of my funniest memories from school involve her gags. She was not, however, someone I thought of as an avid walker. In her own words “Previously [before the lockdown], walking was not something we did very often, quite frankly out of laziness”. Lockdown, however, gave her and her daughter their daily escape from the confines of their home. “As well as clearing the mind and obvious health benefits, it had a big social impact…getting out, chatting to neighbours or fellow walkers kept spirits high. I set myself a personal challenge for the month of May to make sure I walked every day… to get the habit instilled. My daughter used it to kickstart weight loss and has lost almost 2 stone.”
My own journey with walking probably dates back to childhood when our family activity on a Sunday was getting out for a walk. I don’t think I ever saw either of my parents running and bike rides were confined to long summer evenings. Walking though, well that was every weekend, rain or shine. There was a long stretch of my teens and twenties when I lost the bug, my taxi habits in the early part of my career in London were well known and ridiculed. But the addition of a canine member of the family followed by our son pulled me back into line. The stress of juggling new parenting and a senior management position were managed by the sanity-inducing walks in London parks. Before and after work with the dog, at lunchtime with a coffee. I started commuting on foot as much as I could. I planned my day with a pedestrian route in mind. Since de-camping back to Northern Ireland, walking is now embedded in our daily routine. Yes, it’s dog-mandated, but it’s also integral to school days and weekends. A day is incomplete without a walk.
Am I wanging on too much about putting one foot in front of the other? I don’t think so. I like simplicity. I like the uncomplicated things that get results. I like things that leave you no room for excuses. Walking does all of those. Helps with physical fitness. Improves mental health, reduces stress. Builds social connection. Builds connection to nature.
Like Julie, I can see so many people picked up a walking habit during lockdown. The question is whether that stays. The prediction is that the pandemic, lockdown and the massive economic consequences will have a monumental impact on the nation’s mental health. Can walking be the panacea to our ills? I think yes. I am evangelical about it. Putting one foot in front of the other to nudge in the direction of not just normal but better than before.