20 Jul Friday non-food treat: July4 minute read
Food should be enjoyable—but it shouldn’t be your greatest source of joy. Each month I focus on a non-food treat that’s boosting my happiness, in the hope that you’ll find some pleasure in it too!
To fully explain my love for walking, let me first give you a little background information.
When it comes to exercising, I was a bit of a late starter. I was woefully bad at team sports (I was more inclined to run away from a hockey ball than towards it!) and therefore believed that physical activities simply weren’t for me.
However, as part of a get-fit frenzy when I was 17, I started jogging. It was very gentle at first, comprising a 20-minute run three times a week. But, as any runner will tell you, the endorphins quickly become addictive. Soon I was running more or less every day and racking up 10 kilometres without even thinking about it.
On attending university, I had access to a state-of-the-art gym, so I added that to my exercise regime too. I’d run, go to the gym or go for a swim six days a week, and sometimes more than once a day. I believed that the more I exercised, the healthier I was.
I had a few niggling issues, such as aching knees, but figured that I was young and healthy so I didn’t have to worry about them. Far from being invigorated, I often felt more tired after exercising—but I told myself that’s simply because I needed to be fitter. My appetite raged as well, but I tried my best to ignore it.
The turning point came when I was travelling on the tube in London. At one stop the escalator was broken, so everyone had to walk up a flight of stairs to the exit. I remember looking up this flight of stairs and feeling completely overwhelmed. I was simply too exhausted to do it.
It’s as if someone flicked a switch in my mind. I was in my early twenties and I was too tired to walk up a flight of stairs—what was I doing to my body?
Of course, I now know that I was pushing myself to extremes, not only causing wear and tear but also severely impacting my hormones. My body was under constant stress and, had I not changed my behaviour, eventually it would have no longer been able to deal with it.
I didn’t make the change overnight, though. Exercise is like any habit—breaking it isn’t easy. Over time, I became comfortable with doing less and less, and I no longer craved that endorphin high. My knee pain disappeared, my appetite calmed down, and I was once again able to leap up flights of stairs.
Today, I have a genuinely healthy relationship with exercise. I do something active every day—but I don’t feel guilty if I miss it, as I know I’ll do something the next day. What’s more, if I get to a point where exercise starts to make me feel more tired, I know to scale it back.
I rarely jog or run these days, but I have rediscovered the joy of walking. Study after study shows the myriad benefits of this simple activity, from encouraging weight loss to enhancing longevity. On a personal note, I also find it to be incredibly relaxing, especially if the walk is in a natural setting.
One of the benefits of living in London is that (compared to many cities) it has a generous number of green spaces. One of my favourite things to do is amble round my local park for half an hour, sometimes more. If I’m walking alone, I’ll plug into a podcast or call a friend. If I’m with a loved one, it’s a great opportunity to chat—and there’s something about walking side-by-side and moving forward that enables conversation to flow!
Either way, I make a point of really looking at the trees, the plants and the grass (and the odd excitable dog!). As obvious as it sounds, this combination of walking and soaking up all the natural life is incredibly soothing. What’s more, it’s free.
With guidelines dictating that we should all take at least 10,000 steps a day, it’s fair to say that most people could benefit from a little extra walking. It’s a sustainable form of exercise that’s kind on your joints. You can do it anywhere. And, if you’re able to go for a little amble straight after eating, it can also aid your digestion.
Grab a friend, download a podcast or leash up your dog and go. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be amazed by how wonderful this basic activity can be.
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