‘Only thoughts reached by walking have value’ — Friedrich Nietzsche
Firstly, an apology is required. Required, because I’ve had a temporary case of writer’s block. Writer’s block because I’ve struggled to get beyond a few notes and ideas of what I could write about, none of it quite interesting enough to capture my attention, let alone yours. And perhaps also because at the moment if I’m using a pen or my keyboard, it’s to write recipes, not travel memories.
It’s amazing how quickly you can fall out of a rhythm, isn’t it? How the sudden dominance of one big aspect of your life (baking, let’s say) combined with smaller distractions (say, a two week tennis tournament in Paris) can so easily cloud your attention span. Next thing you know, weeks have cruised by and you’ve got little to show for them.
But there’s more to it than that.
What I’m missing is a good, long walk.
Many of us are aware already just how important walking is for our mental health. I certainly am. But in practice, even with lockdown restrictions easing, we’re not walking at nearly the same pace because we’re inside our homes so much more more still.
Not only have I felt some lower back problems creeping back in past weeks, I’ve noticed a shorter temper, inability to concentrate and general indecisiveness. It can’t be a coincidence that I’ve not been going on as many walks as normal. This, despite the fact that I live in a rural village close to the heart of the Blackmore Vale on the south Somerset-Dorset border. Indeed, my iPhone Health app tells me that I’m walking fewer steps in 2021 than I walked in 2020. 2,700 steps less a day on average. Ouch.
The less we walk, the less we thrive. Don’t take my word for it though.
Shane O’Mara, author of In Praise of Walking has a ‘motor-centric’ view of our brains. As he put it in a Guardian article from 2019, ‘[the brain] evolved to support movement and, therefore, if we stop moving about, it won’t work as well.’
There is a lot of data out there in support of walking being one of the main drivers of creativity. Of it helping reduce depression, sharpening our senses, easing tensions.
Regarding creativity specifically, when the brain is engaged in what O’Mara calls the ‘mental time travel’, it flicks between big picture thoughts (what we have to do tomorrow, plans for next year, challenges to face) and thoughts about a task at hand. This creates a fertile ground into which this rush of thoughts and tasks increases our creativity, as we consciously and subconsciously create paths and make links between everything we’re thinking about. While walking, because your brain is also navigating in your surroundings, adding an extra layer to think about, the opportunity for creative thinking naturally increases.
The physical health benefit of walking is also much greater than high intensity workout advocates would have you believe. But slow walkers, bear this in mind: for walking as exercise, O’Mara recommends that your walking speed should be ‘consistently quite high over a reasonable distance – i.e. over 5km an hour, sustained for at least 30 minutes, at least four or five times a week.’ A speedy walk in the park, then.
Again, though many of us know how beneficial walking is, setting aside the time to get into a rhythm is easily said, less easily done. May was mostly miserable here in the UK and I bet many of us walked shorter distances than the same time last year, when we were only allowed out of the house once a day!
So, if like me, you have struggled recently to get back into a walking routine, here are some motivation suggestions:
- If I’m going to be sat on the sofa writing a post like this (one eye on the tennis), I’m going to do so wearing my activewear. Rarely do I not head outside, if I’m dressed the part already.
- Not overthinking is a big one too. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve thought about going out: when to go out, what to do while I’m out to make it worthwhile, whether to get more admin or chores done before I allow myself to go out. Then, the sun goes in and walking doesn’t have the appeal it had three hours earlier. Instead, when I think about going for a walk, I’m just going to go for a walk. (It sounds so obvious, but the approach of just doing something instead of wasting time thinking about it really can be very liberating.)
- Those times when it seems like the most effort in the world? Just think about how good it always feels to have gone on any kind of walk, for any length of time. Put yourself mentally on the walk already, visualising the route you could take, and it won’t seem like such an effort.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to find my trainers.
— Next Sunday preview: I’ll be taking you on a tour around the world looking at solstice celebrations, ahead of the summer solstice taking place on 21st June at 04.31am. —