BLOG: How you can incorporate the five ways to wellbeing through walking

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week (18-24 May), AoC Sport’s Policy and Projects Officer and mental health lead Kirstie Hickson writes about how walking has helped her mental wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A big focus in the Government’s lockdown strategy has been on exercise and the benefits it can bring, not only physically, but particularly for our mental health. Exercise was even classed as an essential reason to leave the house during the strictest part of lockdown.

While I always feel good after going out for a walk – having a change of scenery and getting fresh air – as time has gone on, I’ve found it more difficult to motivate myself some days to walk around the same streets without a “purpose”.

It started to feel a bit tedious so to motivate myself and mix things up, I’ve tried new things. They all relate to the five ways to wellbeing and  were helping my mental health even more than just exercising.

Going outside

In the busy world pre COVID-19, I would rarely go for a walk just for the sake of it, particularly in my local area. I’d generally walk from A to B, maybe to the train station, shop or a friend’s house. On a weekend if I had some time and it was a nice day, I would drive somewhere a bit further afield and exciting, like a National Trust site.

However, since the lockdown began, I’ve been out for at least a couple of miles most days, and on weekends I’ve made time to walk a bit further.

While it can feel daunting to go outside, particularly if you’re feeling anxious about the virus, it really is beneficial to get outside if you’re able to. I think the longer we leave going out, the harder it can then be to motivate ourselves.

As there are fewer cars on the roads it is easier to move out of the way of other people and fellow walkers are generally considerate and take social distancing seriously, so you shouldn’t be afraid to step outside.

Ideas of how to incorporate the five ways to wellbeing through walking

Get active

  • By walking you’re already doing this one so well done! If walking is something you are anxious about, or something you’re not used to doing, start small. Some days I just want a quick wander around the block, others a longer leg stretch.
  • Most smartphones have apps that track steps and distance, if that interests you, so you can see how far you’ve walked over the week or track your route.

Give

  • We are having to think of new ways of showing kindness with social distancing in mind, but it’s more important now than ever before.
  • Kindness is the theme for Mental Health Awareness Week so you could try and incorporate extra kindness opportunities during this week to help others and make yourself feel good.
  • You could go for a walk to deliver some shopping or send a nice letter or gift to a friend or family member.

Take notice

  • There are so many roads that I regularly pass but have never explored. I’ve noticed a few footpath signs when walking from A to B and often wondered where they lead. I’ve taken some time to explore them and found some lovely little streams and wooded areas that I had no idea existed. There’s also more wildlife and it’s usually a lot quieter than the roads.
  • If you live in a city, it may be harder to find places off the beaten track but there will be interesting local facts you can learn. For example, in London, why not look out for the blue plaques.
  • Look out for quirky front doors, gardens or window displays, there’s lots you’ve probably never noticed before.
  • Take pictures of three things you’ve seen on your walk which have made you smile. You could also think about at least one thing you’ve heard and smelt.
  • Importantly, take notice of how going for the walk made you feel. This will be useful in the future when trying to motivate yourself on off days.
  • Mind, Headspace and Bupa have some tips and ideas on mindful walking

Connect

  • I’ve been using my walks to phone friends or family I don’t live with to check in with them and it makes the walk go so much quicker! Sometimes being around the same people constantly (even if they are our loved ones) can be tough and this provides a great opportunity to have open and honest conversations about how you are feeling without being overheard.

Keep learning

  • A great way to learn about something or someone new is to listen to a podcast or audiobook while walking. There’s so much free content out there to learn about new things.
  • How about learning a new language? Think about countries you’d like to visit in the future or a language that a friend or family member speaks that you could learn to impress them.

These are just a few tips but have a think about what you could do. It’s great if you can build some regular walking or outdoor exercise into your routine during lockdown, but importantly be kind to yourself. While we can all look for inspiration of what to do during lockdown, try not to compare yourself to others and do what’s good for you and your circumstances.

Remember to follow the Government guidelines on sport and recreation.

You can find more information about five ways to wellbeing during coronavirus and physical activity and your mental health.

Visit the mental health resource section on our Coronavirus Resource Hub

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