“Why do we have to go for a walk again, Mummy?” my five-year-old son complained while I was digging out the cupboard under the stairs, in the vain hope that there were some wellies in there that both fit and didn’t let the muddy water in three minutes after getting off a footpath.
“Because it’s nice.” I carried on with my excavation.
My daughter, two years older than her brother and developing a very mature sense of humour (which I blame her uncle for), groaned from the hallway,
“it might be nice for you, but we were happy in our room.”
I supressed a surge of irritation and decided to handle the question differently.
“Here’s the thing,” I told them, giving up on the junk pile in the cupboard and using my knee to push it closed against the further mess I’d made in there, “going out walking makes me happy. And it’s good for our bodies, it keeps us fit and healthy. And this year of Covid stuff has made me think quite a lot about keeping our bodies well and being happy. So we’re going for another walk.”
The boy sighed, the girl rolled her eyes, I put plastic bags over my socks before sliding them into my leaking wellies, and we headed out into the autumn.
‘All this Covid stuff’ really has made me think a lot about health and happiness. I’m certain that it’s done the same for you. There’s all sorts of information out there (check out Sport England’s website to see some) that tells us how movement increases our health and supports our mental and emotional wellbeing – but you know that anyway. The problem most of us have to overcome isn’t why we should get our heart rates and breathing rates up for 150 minutes or more a week, it’s how.
The first thing to note, in my humble opinion, is that increasing your physical activity levels means just that – increasing on your current normal. To get the wellbeing benefits of movement, as a simple rule of thumb, you need to feel a slight stretch (if you’re doing seated stretching or yoga, for example) or notice your heart and breathing speeding up. For some people that happens walking up stairs. For others, it means a short jog on a frosty morning or even a vigorous game of tennis. For me it mostly means dashing across the house to stop the dog eating the hairbrush, again.
Walking with the children is great, it’s become massively important for us to spend that time together with no other distractions. It’s amazing what they’ll talk to me about when there isn’t a toy or a tablet or a plate of food in sight. I know it’s really good for the little ones to be outdoors with me every day but I became aware that walking with children doesn’t actually raise my heart or respiration rate. They have short legs, you know. Not very speedy except in short flurries. So I started, actually before Covid hit, finding one or two chances a week to go walking with grown ups or alone.
The week before lockdown #1 I was in a ridiculously optimistic mood and went for a 20 mile hike along the coast path with a friend. As I stood on the clifftop east of Exmouth, looking out at the tiny licks of foam on a bright, grey sea, I remembered a time when I was a teenager and became very poorly, unable to leave my bed or the sofa for many months. I told my friend, as I watched the sea, “When I was 14 I had to go up the stairs backwards on my backside, taking a break every step, with one of my brothers in front of me in case I got too dizzy and passed out. Now look at me.”
That feeling, that quiet inward gratitude at what I’m able to do and see now that once I couldn’t, brings me a peaceful kind of motivation whenever I remember it. It didn’t take a 20 mile hike to make me feel that wonderful, though. I got the same feeling the day I was helped out onto a garden chair after weeks indoors. I got the same feeling the first time I took my first baby for a walk on my own a couple of weeks after giving birth. I’m going to be honest, I sometimes get that feeling of quiet pride and thankfulness simply for getting myself into gear to clean the house. This isn’t as frequent an occurrence as it should be!
What’s your story?
We all have our own stories, our own journeys. Finding ways to increase how much we move in day to day life is going to be unique for everyone; our goals will be unique, too. Some of us have been athletes and years of strain and injury have reduced our mobility, some of us used to play sport but have too many family and work commitments to find space easily, some of us will read the line about me shuffling up the stairs and think, “my body won’t even do that for me”.
That’s all ok. It’s important, for our wellbeing as a whole, to live and to move in ways that work for us as individuals.
I hope this blog will become a place for more of our community to tell their stories. If reading it has made you think about your own journey with physical activity, please get in touch. I’ve never met a person who didn’t have an interesting story to tell, even if they didn’t know it themselves, and sharing our stories helps other people on their own paths to greater wellbeing.
We’d love to hear from you.