Taking a daily evening walk can help you get or keep fit, and can help improve your mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
These are challenging times for us all. One of the significant consequences – reported in many countries – is a marked decline in people’s mental health due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lockdown, isolation, illness, bereavement, concerns over financial security, job losses … are all contributing to anxiety, insomnia, depression, and suicidal thoughts. As a result, calls to mental health helplines have risen. Prescriptions for antidepressants have reached an all-time high. At the same time, over-stretched health services are unable to provide essential and potentially life-saving talking therapies.
I am no mental health specialist. However, over the years I have suffered from black clouds of depression. I’ve received my fair share of colorful pills and helpful therapists. I also am totally convinced that regular exercise – in my case walking and cycling – has a significant, positive impact on my mood.
I’m not saying anything new. The benefits of regular exercise are well-known. Way before the appearance of the coronavirus I published a post here on the Health Benefits of Hiking. It listed no fewer than 23 ways that hiking makes you healthier. While some of these are purely physical benefits such as strengthened muscles, increased bone density, enhanced cardiovascular health, cleaner lungs etc., many of them refer to mental health benefits such as reduced tension, decreased anxiety, and improved mood.
However, I am aware that it’s easy to give the impression that hiking refers to a major day-long adventure that has to be planned in advance and undertaken occasionally. There’s nothing wrong with that approach – and of course this blog is packed with ideas for where to go walking – but in this post I would like to focus on something different.
Take a daily evening walk
Back in 2009, Liz and I decided to take a short after-dinner walk every evening. I have to admit, on top of the need to get exercise, another driving force behind this decision was to get a bit of peace and quiet! Back in 2009, all four of our children were living at home. They were aged between 17 and 23, and much as we loved their company, it was refreshing to get away for a while every evening to have a good chat about things (including them). It soon became a habit. So much so that we break it only if the weather is extremely severe, which is only on very rare occasions. (We did venture out in a thunderstorm once; and vowed never to do that again). Indeed, we reckon that we walk 360 evenings a year.
In the dark cold winter months, it really is a short walk. It’s a two-kilometer circuit that takes just half an hour. As soon as the evenings become warmer and lighter we extend the route to three or four kilometers, depending on other evening commitments.
Of course, I fully understand that “evening commitments” are major obstacles to a daily evening walk. We can all find plenty of stuff to do after our evening meal to occupy us until it’s time to head bed-wards. But everything is a choice, isn’t it? We could choose to sit down and watch the TV or scan the news on our phone or do the ironing or write a blog post or email a friend or paint the spare room …
Some of these will be higher on our lists of priorities than others. But what can be more of a priority than our physical and mental health? And as – hopefully – no-one is forcing us to do these chores, we should all be able to make a conscious decision to re-schedule them, or put them on hold for 30 or 45 minutes.
I’m also aware that not everyone shares the same family circumstances as Liz and I. We are in our sixties and our children have left home. So we can very easily choose to go for a walk after clearing up after our evening meal. If you have a baby or young children, it’s more difficult. So here are a few suggestions:
- Wrap baby up warm and take him or her with you in the pram or push-chair.
- Take baby with you in a sling.
- Leave one parent with the baby and go a walk by yourself or with a neighbor.
- Invite your regular babysitter to babysit for 30 minutes.
If you are a single person, you may not feel like walking the dark streets alone. So why not meet a friend at the same time each evening?
An opportunity to walk and chat
On our walks, the children still crop up as discussion topics from time to time, but our evening walks give us the opportunity to discuss other matters, such as books we are reading, news items, work, and hobbies. Indeed, to return to where I started – mental health issues arising from COVID-19 – going an evening walk with your partner or a friend or neighbor is a highly beneficial way to counteract lockdown anxiety. Our eldest son has also taken up the concept of a regular evening walk, although he walks much further than us, and uses the time to call up siblings or friends and have a good chinwag with them. I don’t want to make any promises, but I confidently anticipate that after most evening walks, if not after every one, you will feel more relaxed and less anxious. Certainly more so than you would have done if you just collapsed in front of the TV after your evening meal.
Make it a New Year’s Resolution?
I’m not a great one for making New Year’s Resolutions, but if you are, then taking a daily evening walk would surely be a good one to make. If you have a fear of failure, perhaps you could ease the pressure on yourself. For January you could commit to an evening walk four times a week, to get into the swing of things and introduce your new routine gradually. By February you could increase the frequency to six. Come the warmer spring evenings and you’ll be out there every evening!
Looking for a New Year’s Resolution? What about deciding to take a short walk every evening? It has physical and mental health benefits that are especially important in these COVID days.Tweet
However, for these dark January evenings I would recommend beginning with a short, 2 km walk. You can easily calculate a 2k route by using Google Maps Pedometer, although I find Gmap Pedometer easier to use. I’m not talking about walking in the countryside in the winter months, but along your local streets.
Another tip is to install a pedometer app on your phone. This will show you the distance covered as well as the number of steps taken, time taken, calories burnt etc. And it will give you cumulative figures so you can see how much distance you’ve covered in a week. If you are a goal-setter it will help you achieve them. If not, seeing that you’ve walked 20 km this week – just in the evenings – will surely encourage you. Also useful in the winter months is a fluorescent jacket.
And the distances will soon add up. Liz and I walk over 1000 km each year in the evenings. That means that since we started we’ve walked around 13,000 kilometers. In other words, we’ve just reached Cape Town.
This evening we start on the return journey.
What about looking up too?
Here’s another suggestion. While you’re out on your evening walk, why not look up at the stars? Even in cities it’s possible to find some darker areas, such as a hillside, where street lamps may not be so abundant and the effects of light pollution not so apparent.
In addition, when you return to your house, you might like to spend some time in your back garden looking up at the stars. If so, a good telescope is essential – and doesn’t have to be expensive. Here are some great recommendations for some high-quality yet affordable telescopes to do some star- and planet-gazing.
Few things in life can match the simple pleasure of a walk, either in an interesting city or surrounded by the healing power of nature. That fact, Denzil, makes your blog a wonderful resource for those of us who prefer to travel with our feet and leave the petrol-guzzling engines at home.
Lovely to hear from you Henry and thanks for your positive remark. I hope you are keeping well in these difficult times and I wish you good health in the year ahead.
Happy 2021 Denzil. Wishing you and your family good heatlh as well!
When the gym closed at the start of Covid restrictions I started going for a 30 minute walk first thing every morning. It’s become a habit and I’m still going every day. I cancelled my gym membership – it’s much nicer to walk in the early morning breeze than on a treadmill with a whole lot of sweaty people. Sometimes Mr ET comes with me but often I just go on my own and enjoy the quiet time.
That’s great Carol. I have the impression that a number of gyms and fitness centers will have lost some of their members to the great outdoors.
I need to do more walking, I get put off by the rain. We get a lot here.
Rain indeed is a deterrent. We don’t walking in light rain, as long as we have our waterproofs and an umbrella. Heavy rain makes us wait until it has cleared up. Sometimes though … we just get wet!
Basically doing what dog owners do at least twice a day without the hassle! Nothing beats a good walk even in freezing conditions. All the best to you both
And the same to you Elaine. May 2021 be a good year for you.
Very good idea Denzil and Liz.
I’m regularly out, but still not often enough.
I was thinking to start with a daily walk early in the morning, but after evening meal is a possibility to do this together with Janet.
Good idea Jacques. At least the evenings are getting lighter. In theory anyway.
This is all good advice. I have also found that, with working at home, going for a walk after my working day is done is an excellent way of providing a break between work and home and allowing me to step right away from my job and properly enjoy the rest of the evening.
Yes I have followed your recent walking excursions on your blog Paul and read that you are experiencing the benefits, which is great.
Lovely posting, Denzil. When we lived in Southern California, an evening walk could be accompanied by a spectacular sunset. Here, we see some lovely sunsets too but are on the wrong side of the mountains to get the full effect. I usually take my walk in the morning or afternoon when it is lighter and my legs are less tired. Walking is self-help therapy at its easiest. Could be habit forming. 🙂
Thanks Pat, looks like I’m preaching to the converted. It’s definitely habit-forming, even addictive!
Definitely benefits to getting out, even for a short walk. We’ve been curfewed since New Year’s Eve and have to be at home from 1-00 in the afternoon, but we’re back to ‘normal’ tomorrow and I’m looking forward to a decent walk. 🙂 🙂
Phew that sounds a tough curfew, hopefully it worked
Numbers here have been on the rise so I think we may have more restraints to come 🙁 🙁
Do you ever get bored walking down the same streets every day? I know that last year I walked around a lot of my local streets and I’m now more than a little bored with them. But there’s not much choice – if I go out for a walk, there’s only so many streets nearby I can walk down.
Yes Michelle, especially in the winter when we can’t take the paths over the fields. We just have to bite the bullet!
Whenever I am “back home” in a small village in Germany, I am facing that issue.
I have now adapted my walking strategy to fight boredom: I walk until I see the first road, street or even small path in the forest that I don’t know yet. Then I take it. It’s amazing how many unknown spots can open up in a circle of a few kilometers around home! (But maybe this is easier in a forest than in a city.)
Another thing I do against boredom is to take an MP3 player with podcasts. Currently, it’s snowing quite heavily and I am listening to podcasts about the Arctic and about Siberia. In summer, when walking across fields in Bavaria, I am sometimes listening to country music, imagining myself in the Wild West. – So I walk and I travel in my head at the same time. 🙂
We usually have a walk in the evening after John finishes work. It’s a lot easier in the summer though!
I agree. 8 pm on a dark and cold Monday evening isn’t too enticing. But the warm dry house when we return is!
There is something special about evening walks – in the summer anyway. I’m quite a fan of beginning my days with a decent walk. Both ends of the day have their own charms.
Yes, beginning the day with a good walk sounds an excellent idea. I myself tend to favour getting down to work first thing though. Thanks for your comment Margaret and I wish you a healthy 2021.
I often do. A friend of mine works office hours, from home. So he needs to stretch his legs after.
Good for you Denzil. You know I go on regular walks, but they do tend to be earlier in the day – and are first thing in the morning on a work day. I have resolved to do a few more lunch time walks – working from home has made me much less active than I would usually be on a daily basis.
So very true, all of what you said!