Staying active has become more important than ever under lockdown, both for physical and mental health. For some, it became a necessity to get from A to B with limited public transport running and a hesitation to use public transport whilst the virus is still spreading. For others, it was a chance to reconnect with nature in a way that wasn’t previously possible. Here we look at how walking has changed for us, what we love about it and what we’re looking forward to once restrictions are lifted.
Physical distancing has been a key to limiting the spread of Covid-19. It’s also highlighted how driving and parking are prioritised on our streets, oftentimes leaving little-to-no room for safe walking and cycling on designated paths. Health and safety previously dictated routes that included as many quiet side streets as possible to avoid traffic and resulting air pollution but, with increased numbers on footpaths, I’ve ended up planning journeys on main roads in order to maintain social distancing. The government announced that it will invest £2bn in cycling and walking infrastructure to encourage healthier travel habits. Some local councils are starting to open up main roads (many temporarily but some permanently) to bike riders and pedestrians to help people spend time outdoors safely.
With less traffic on the roads and in the air, our senses have also been awakened. We’ve seen more wildlife in our local areas; listened to the complexity of birdsong, the buzz of bees and rustling of leaves as wildlife darts between trees – made all the more pronounced with the limited aircraft noise overhead. I’ve enjoyed the scent of lilacs and crisp, fresh air and been surprised to distinguish the smell of exhaust between individual vehicles that pass me by. With so many sunny days since restrictions began, letting the warm sun soak into my skin is such a welcome change from my shady home office setup. Mindfulness has been an incredible source of awareness and enjoyment of the world around me.
Restrictions on our movements have prompted us to discover new local green spaces and to savour the beauty of the ones we already knew. We’ve embraced the adventures right on our doorstep, taking the road less travelled, even stumbling across a fairy forest in the process. We’ve become aware of seasonal differences, noticing even the smallest changes.
One colleague revels in her daily walk around the Southampton Common, which replaced her commute, saying,
“There’s so much to enjoy from the old cemetery and ornamental lake to the various footpaths. Over the last couple of months I’ve enjoyed seeing bluebells flourish, trees blossom and the numerous birds that have made the Common their home.”
Working from home has also provided us with the opportunity to let loose more often.
“I have been enjoying walking around barefoot more whilst working from home. I love the feel of floorboards in the house and grass in the garden under my feet, even more if it has been sun warmed!”
Personally, I enjoy escaping my housemates’ and neighbours’ deafening exercise music when I enter the tranquil realm of birdsong and rustling leaves at my local parks.
Whilst there’s much to enjoy about walking from home during National Walking Month, we also sorely miss sharing the experience with loved ones. The latest government advice in England allows us to meet one other person outside our household for a walk outdoors, so long as they keep their distance. Two colleagues who live near one another have already shared a walk together, following these new guidelines. It is, however, much more difficult if that other person happens to be a toddler:
“One of my favourite people to walk with is my niece – it’s great seeing how much she enjoys exploring. I’m really looking forward to walking with her again once the restrictions are lifted!”
We also look forward to seeing more permanent changes to encourage active travel and cleaner air.
Have you been walking more recently? What have you enjoyed most about it? If you’re stuck for ideas on where to walk, get inspired by MyJourney and the Go Jauntly app. Active travel is a great way to kick start next month’s New Year’s Resolution to beat air pollution, so keep up the habit!