I was never much for sports in school, nor in my adult life, for that matter. I wasn’t quite the last kid picked for team sports, but it usually came close. I found every excuse not to participate in gym class. I lasted four sessions when my parents signed me up for private tennis lessons and the thought of joining any kind of after-school sports teams sent a chill down my spine. I constantly felt out of place in the competitive atmosphere.
I found the camaraderie teens often sought in theatre and the arts. This continued into my grown-up life as I grew into an adult who enjoys more sedentary passions like reading, movies, cooking, and knitting. Gardening was about as active as things got, but my love of nature did produce a love of the great outdoors.
That’s why, when my world was tipped upside down with the death of my mother, I turned to nature to grieve. I sought refuge in the sun on my face, the breeze in my hair, and the myriad sounds that nature has to offer. Tired of staring at my own backyard, I took to the streets and started walking.
At first, I just walked around our neighbourhood block. After a couple of weeks, I ventured further. I found myself escaping the sad memories of the 11 months I spent caring for my beloved mom by walking in nature. I renewed my membership to a local nature conservation area and walked the trails.
I roamed, I explored, and I hiked
I bought new running shoes. I took notice of the health tracking feature on my iPhone and started counting my steps. Soon, I was walking five times a week in the early mornings, burning calories and slowly shedding the veil of grief that often kept me bedridden. They say it takes 21 days to form a habit. I had done so and had the mileage tracked to prove it.
I found that I enjoyed passing by the homes of my neighbours and took note of what they planted in their gardens. I noticed home renovations and seasonal changes in decor. Over time, I started familiarizing myself with the same faces that also took to walking in the calm of the early-morning hours. I found myself greeting them with a smile and a polite “good morning,” despite the feeling of melancholy that bathed my aching heart. They had no idea what I was going through, and nor I them. We were all just passers-by with agendas of our own. Some walked to maintain health, while others exercised their pets.
At first, I walked because it was easy. Now I walked with purpose. I walked so I would get out of bed in the morning. I walked to clear my head of all the unanswered questions that the pain in my heart knew would never be answered. I walked to take a mental break from the anguish of grief that had consumed me since the passing of the most important person in my life. I didn’t break a sweat. I didn’t have to. I simply walked for me.
If you’ve been contemplating exercise but are lacking the motivation to find the right fit for you, I highly recommend walking. Don’t set yourself up for failure by joining a team you already know you won’t show up for.
Start small. Ease into it. Here’s how
I’ve included a few helpful tips that might assist you in getting started and staying committed to your exercise journey:
- Choose a preferred time of day and stick with it when possible
- Listen to music or a podcast to keep your energy up
- Invest in good running shoes
- Change up your route to keep from getting bored of the same scenery
- Join a walking club if you feel motivated by others
- Have an alternate plan for inclement weather such as a treadmill or a gym membership (Don’t skip your routine just because of a little rain!)
- Invest in a tracking device to help track your progress. As you watch your progress grow, the more motivated you’ll be to stick with your program
Some of these tips helped make me feel more accountable. For instance, I found walking first thing in the morning motivated me to start my day. Once completed, I felt a sense of accomplishment that not only kept my spirits up but motivated me to get on with my day.
If it rained, I removed the laundry hanging from the treadmill and walked there, rather than forgoing it altogether because I had spent time creating this habit and didn’t want to undo the work I’d put in. Feeling accountable increased my confidence and in time, I was walking in excess of five kilometres every day. In time, my grief started to ease.
I wasn’t planning on running any marathons anytime soon—I simply walked for me because the benefits far outweighed the negatives and the pain in my heart had lessened. Walking saved me during the most traumatic time in my life, and now I was addicted.
Now my only agenda is to keep walking because both my mental health and I deserve it.