During the lowest points of my depression, I started walking late at night. A lot. It was fitting, to me, to surround myself with the beauty of the night at its blackest at a time that my health felt like it was plummeting to similar depths of darkness.
But what I found on those late night walks was not an analogous context in which I could allow my thoughts and feelings to exacerbate and worsen my state, but a cathartic avenue of release whereby I schedule time to be could be truly free to think through my issues, have emotions wash over me, and do it all with the crisp night air and bright stars.
Some of my most helpful and productive reflections have come from such walks. To this day, I ensure that I walk at least 45-60 minutes every night before bed, for a combined 10km each day (inclusive of whatever else I’ve done since waking up).
Walking is probably the easiest and most convenient activity I’ve routinely implemented in order to keep my health balanced, and it is without doubt one of the best.
There’s a number of reasons why you too should look to include a night walk, no matter how long or small, into your schedule in order to be at your best.
Nobody is overwhelmed by a walk:
Sometimes, the idea of going for a run, attending a gym class or playing a team sport may seem like too much to do once you’ve gotten home from a hard day at work. A walk, on the other hand, is an inoffensive prospect and is easily achievable. Making time for even a half hour jaunt won’t disrupt your day; in fact, it makes me feel more vibrant for everything else in the daily grind.
Compartmentalise the crazy:
Each night walk is my opportunity to consider and analyse my health and wellbeing, and what I can be doing to help it along if need be. As a result, I don’t need to be worrying about it for the rest of the day – I know that there is a scheduled opportunity to feel what needs to be felt. Any stress or anxiety can thus be shifted to a time when I am equipped to deal with it, by way of an activity I find comforting and relieving.
Getting away from gadgets:
I know I’m not the only one who finds that being on the phone or laptop, or watching TV, before bed keeps me up later. Going for a walk before bed helps me create some distance between technology and putting my head on the pillow. So ingrained into the routine has my walking become that it is a kind of psychological switch that reminds me sleep time is approaching.
Diversity of application:
You can listen to music and tune out (literally and metaphorically); you can listen to podcasts (I like true crime, history and politics shows, which allow me to catch up on the day’s news or learn fun facts all while I’m doing my exercise); you can walk without your phone – shock, horror – and simply take in the sensual delights of your environmental surroundings; or, you can do it with someone. Walking provides a great opportunity to catch up with family and friends.
Walking doesn’t discriminate:
There’s no off-season for walking – so long as you’re appropriately dressed for the season, you can walk any day of the year (unless it rains, of course). It can be scheduled in no matter what else is scheduled in the calendar, which thus makes it easier to become a staple of your routine.
Here’s a few tips to get you in the habit of night walking (or during the day, if you prefer) and therefore walking towards better wellbeing:
• Find an ideal length of time to walk for. 45 minutes is usually perfect for me, but maybe 15-20 would be a better starting point for you if you’re not used to it;
• Choose a few routes and stick to them. On weekends, it’s great to mix it up and explore somewhere new. But on weeknights it’s comforting to wander the streets or parks you know and love, as it helps you better visualise and appreciate the benefits of your walk so you know, with each step, what benefit can be gleaned.
• Personalise the activity to your tastes: if there is a particular podcast that would be compatible with your walk, or a music album, incorporate that wherever possible. So long as they help you reflect and unwind, go for it!
Walking is not simply for couples seeking romance or hikers chasing a suitable for their next Instagram picture. Taking those steps each night have helped me schedule time to be reflective and have release, where necessary. It adds new layers of physical activity to my week, helps me sleep better and, most of all, has been a friend to me in times of loneliness.
Give it a try for a few nights; what you’ll get out of it far outweighs the effort required to implement it as a staple of your routine.