movement can beat back pain

With our freedom still restricted by COVID-19, many people have taken up walking more regularly. I am definitely included in that group!

I already know there are many benefits to walking but I wanted to explore them by pushing myself to walk further and more regularly than I usually would. For January and February I decided to walk almost every day, trying to average over 3 miles per day each week. 

I discovered a lot about movement and the benefits of walking through this little experiment, read on to find out what I learned! 

How often I walked

For all of January and February, I walked every day apart from 6 days. You could think of these 6 days off like ‘rest’ days. 

How far I walked

10,000 steps is often hailed as a good amount of walking to do per day. In terms of length of time, 10,000 steps equates to 1 hour 40 minutes of walking for me. 

Instead of aiming for 10,000 steps I tried to walk for at least an hour. This would end up being more like 7,000-8,000 steps. 

I also did some much longer walks at the weekend. My longer walks would last 3-4 hours or total 20,000 + steps. 

How I stayed motivated 

After about 2 weeks of walking every day it became a habit, but there were days I didn’t feel like it. Here’s how I stayed motivated on those days:

  1. Organise walks with friends. I was much more likely to want to go when it was combined with social interaction!
  2. Take the first step! Most times all I needed to do was put one foot outside of the door. Even if I only intended to walk for 30 minutes often I would crave longer and end up walking for over an hour. 
  3. Pick a point far away from home. When I wanted to go for longer walks I would choose points far away from home (Tower Bridge, Battersea Power Station, The Thames Path). Then I had to walk long distances to get back home!

The effects of walking 

On my walking days I noticed that walking had the following effects:

  • However I felt before going for a walk, I always felt more positive afterwards
  • My energy levels increased
  • While I was walking I often had good ideas 
  • I slept better (and after particularly long walks I would fall asleep much quicker) 
  • My body felt better – I didn’t feel stiff or achey anywhere
  • I felt more connected to my local area. I found new roads, saw interesting things, and discovered new places near me
  • I felt more connected to my community – one day I ran into an old friend I didn’t know had moved to the area!

How much do we (usually) walk in daily life?

Prior to COVID-19, our environment moved us. Katy Bowman often talks about this as an idea. Let’s unpack what she means in a pre-COVID world. 

If you had a job, you had to move yourself to get to your office. If you had kids who needed to attend school / nursery, you had to move yourself (and them!) to school/ nursery. If you wanted to see your friends, you had to move yourself to wherever you were meeting them. The same goes for going to the gym, exercise classes, going to see a movie, or going to a restaurant or the pub. 

Although walking for an hour a day might sound like a lot, I found it useful to contemplate how much I used to walk every day without realising it. Prior to COVID, I taught Pilates classes 3 nights and 2 mornings every week. The venues I would go to were around a 10 minute walk away from my house. So simply walking to and from my venues to do my job would mean a total of 20 minutes walking per day (1 hour 20 minutes per week). 

I also taught a corporate class every week, which would be a 15 minute walk to the tube, plus a 5 minute walk on the other side (40 minutes per week). That brings my weekly total to 2 hours, just for commuting alone. 

I’m quite lucky that my job teaching Pilates means I stand up a lot and walk around while I’m teaching. In my pre-COVID life, I was teaching about 10 hours a week. Even if I said only half of those hours were actual walking that would total 5 hours per week. Total for the week is now 7 hours. 

[I’m aware that my job is slightly unusual in how much it moves me, but even if you work in a desk based job, I’m going to hazard a guess that when you worked in an office you would go out for lunch every day. Plus you probably went to meetings, went out to get coffee, or walked within the office to go make a cup of tea. It’s not completely unreasonable to assume that all of those things on a daily basis make up roughly 1 hour of walking.]

Beyond work and commuting, I used to see my friends at least once a week. The amount of walking required for that was probably around 40 minutes for the total journey. My weekly total is now 7 hours 40 minutes. 

I could continue this exercise to include food shopping, going to the climbing centre to climb (at least 3 times a week), meeting colleagues for coffee, plus actually going for a walk (which I used to do once a week). Even at a low estimate, I think every week I was walking 10 hours a week. 

A lack of movement lowers your mood

As a teacher of movement, I am aware that I have a biased opinion. My personal bias is that movement makes you feel good. 

However, it has been proved in many scientific studies that movement does in fact make you feel good! What kind of movement? Pretty much any kind of movement! 

  • Walking, running, cycling, and other forms of cardio
  • Strength training
  • Movement like yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi, etc.

It stands to reason that if movement releases endorphins and makes us feel good, a lack of movement does the opposite – it makes us feel rubbish. Our mood will be lower, we will have less creative ideas, we will feel depressed, stressed and bad in our bodies.

Walking more – in lockdown and beyond!

Moral of the story is: if you’re not feeling good at the moment and you’re not walking for at least an hour a day, why not try increasing your walking time/ distance and see how you feel after a week. 

When I started walking more it felt like a lot of effort for me to ‘squeeze’ it into my day, but now it feels like an essential habit. I don’t need to think about going out for a walk, I simply want to! I think it’s a great way to stay positive during these challenging times. 

Have you been walking during lockdown? What have you noticed about how it makes you feel? Comment below and let me know what you notice about increasing your walking!