Going for A Walk Can Do More Than You Think

For body and for mind, a simple walk can do wonders.

By: Calum MarshDate: 2020-11-06

Lockdown was always a misnomer. Even at the apex of the coronavirus pandemic, when governments the world over banned public gatherings and shuttered restaurants and cinemas and gyms, we were never actually shut indoors, forced to stay in our homes like felons sentenced to house arrest.

It’s important to remember, as case numbers begin to creep up again across Canada and bars and casinos and things are ordered closed, that it’s possible to be safe and self-isolate and still get some fresh air once in a while. This may be the year of quarantine. But we’ve never been imprisoned. We can still go outside.

It took me a long time to learn this lesson. Like many people, I spent much of the spring wallowing in grubby solitude and physical degradation, my apartment a mess of bourbon bottles and discarded candy bar wrappers. My gym shut down and my friends off-limits, I frittered away my evenings playing video games and watching reality television, steadily falling to pieces as I dreamed of company and freedom. I left the house about as often as I put on pants, which is to say much less than I’m willing to admit, and I’m positive that my mental health suffered as a result.

There’s a limit to how much you can stand to stare at the same four walls day in and day out with variation. I found that limit — and over the course of the spring and summer soared right past it.

I took up morning walks in the late summer, on the advice of a personal trainer. Head out for a brisk stroll after an hour of exercise, he said, to keep your heart-rate up and burn a few extra calories — so I urged my girlfriend out the door with me, extra-large thermos of coffee in hand, and together we sauntered around the block along Toronto’s waterfront, soaking in the cool air and the still-rising sun.

I felt the benefits immediately. A boost of energy as I headed into the rest of the day, a clearer head as I tackled work, a looser and more limber physique. Nor were the benefits exclusively physical. Getting out and moving around a little had an amazing effect on how I felt inside. Less anxious. Less stressed. It was as much a boon to the soul as to the body. Walking was therapeutic.

The science bears this out. A recent study by researches at Stanford University found that in men and women between the ages of 19 to 91, moderate exercise such as walking or riding a stationary bike produced “significant improvement” in the results of tests taken to assess “memory and reaction time.” Regular exercise is also “associated with a reduced risk of depression and anxiety,” writes researchers at Harvard Medical School, and “there is mounting evidence that it slows cognitive decline and may reduce the risk of dementia.”

Studies continue to show the benefits of starting your day with a simple morning walk — and at a time of enormous social, political, and medical turbulence, as we’re forced to get used to an entirely new normal, those benefits have never been more critical to our ongoing mental and physical health.

Of course, cruising into the blissful August sun in the AM is a more appealing proposition than inching out there on a deep-freeze morning in November, when the sun itself barely seems interested in getting up and the temperatures are plummeting below zero. Still, we have found the routine bracing — in some ways even more than before. For one thing the sidewalks have cleared out, as less intrepid morning-walkers seem to be staying in, and for another the cool temperatures have made it more fun to bundle up, layer some vests over cozy sweaters, and clutch a mug of piping tea or coffee, keeping our chins up as we bare the elements.

Whether it will remain this fun as we barrel toward December and the true heart of winter remains to be seen. But for now — with the possibility of yet more time in lockdown on the horizon — I can’t imagine doing without.

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