Let me set the scene: it’s an hour past hometime on a Tuesday night. Not only are you still at your desk, you’re staring at a mushrooming inbox draining you like kryptonite and a looming presentation that won’t write itself. By the time you prise yourself away from your mountainous desk like a limpet, the race is on to jump on a Tube (any Tube), catch that 7.57 train (no chance) or leap in your car like Sandra Bullock in Speed.
Sound familiar? That’s because we’ve all been there. When you’re dreaming of your sofa after a hard day’s slog, the idea of a leisurely walk home may seem ridiculous. We’re all busy women, after all. I’d wager I’m not the only one who lacks the midweek motivation of, let’s say, Julie Andrews on an Austrian mountainside. Modern life can zap the best of us – and it can affect how we approach our daily routine. Here’s the thing, though: if it's practically doable, walking home might be the one decision you make today that hands you your sanity back. It could make you physically healthier, too.
You don’t need me to tell you that stress at work is a major issue – we’ve probably all experienced it at one time or another. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), in 2014/15 440,000 people in the UK reported work-related stress at a level they believed was making them ill. To give you a sense of scale, that’s exactly how many people marched on Washington in support of women’s rights earlier this year.
Last year, scientists analysed data taken from a million men and women, and concluded that it’s not just stress that’s making us ill at the office. According to the experts, sitting still for more than eight hours a day increases the risk of premature death (for instance, by heart failure) by a whopping 60 per cent. Thankfully, researchers for The Lancet’s Sedentary Behaviour Working Group didn’t just scaremonger the public with their findings; they suggested a way we can all counter the negative effects of office working: an hour of walking after work could actually eliminate this risk.
If it's practically doable, walking home might be the one decision you make today that hands you your sanity back. It could make you physically healthier, too
“Basically, the more we move, the better,” wellness expert Fran McElwaine tells me when I ask her about the benefits of walking. “The more stationary we are, the more sluggish the lymphatic system becomes,” she explains. “The lymphatic system is essential to our immune system and therefore keeping the lymph moving is crucially important to our health and one of the best ways to eliminate toxins.”
So, should we all be embracing a slow commute home? “Walking to and from work is ideal,” McElwaine says, “especially if you can swing your arms a bit as well! It’s not necessary to get out of breath. Normal walking is enough to get the lymph moving.”
Of course, not all of us can manage slow commuting. If you rely on the bus, why not jump off a couple of stops early and finish off your journey on foot? As a freelancer, the commute to work ends at my kitchen table, so I do a few laps round my local park to break up my day. Everyone’s schedule is different. It’s all about compromise.
“In a perfect world, we would each be walking at least 10,000 steps a day, which is approximately an hour’s worth of walking,” McElwaine says. “If you can fit this into your daily routine, you are well on your way to a faster metabolism, greater detox efficiency and a healthier immune system.”
If walking home every day is a stretch, a part-time arrangement (on the odd days you can spare an hour) could be the way forward. Not only is it a useful tool to disengage from work, it provides us with an invaluable time slot to re-engage with ourselves. As Björk said in a 2015 interview: “You don’t go to church or a psychotherapist – you go for a walk and feel better.”
Asking friends and colleagues about their commute, I was genuinely surprised at how many concur with Iceland’s celestial singer. When I questioned why they had embraced walking, their answers illustrated just how beneficial it can be. One friend told me that walking connects her to the world around her (“It’s more visible to me and I'm a part of it,” she revealed). Another said it actually helps him see people. “On the train, people tend to wear the same mask-like expression,” he told me. “I sometimes feel literally and metaphorically crushed – under-trodden, reduced somehow.” If there’s one unifying narrative, it’s this: walking brings us closer – to our surroundings, ourselves and even each other.
Not everyone agrees, mind you. For all those who find walking boring, you’re not alone, but there are ways you can utilise an hour’s stroll. Most walkers I talked to while researching this piece told me they listen to music and podcasts to soundtrack their exercise – and keep them engaged. “To keep me motivated, I like to listen to a really good audio book,” McElwaine recommends, “one with a great plot that I reserve just for walking. Because I want to find out what happens next, I’m always looking forward to the next chance to go walking, instead of making up excuses not to do it.”
At the risk of flogging a much-used phrase, whatever works. There’s no “right” way to walk, so why not give it a go? Log off, step outside, take a deep breath – and put those quads to work.
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