What is walking for me?
As we are right in the middle of Qld Walks Month, I have been considering this more and more as I explore the surrounds of my suburb. As I get older, I know walking is becoming more important to me, but I have never been able to articulate ‘why’.
What I do know is that walking is something I now prioritise and value. It makes me feel good about myself as I start to become aware of a sense of energy, contentment, and happiness but in a very serene and calm way.
I have always been a runner (albeit, slow and steady but very consistent and regular). I still love to run but I don’t run the long distances anymore. A 30-minute run for me is adequate and helps clear my mind quickly as I need it.
Walking is different.
Appreciating the environment is something I am only starting to learn and value, and it’s starting to have a very big impact on every part of my life. My favourite walk is one that is long, at my own pace, through different tracks and paths and involves lots of scenery. It’s amazing what you pick up when you walk. I know so much more about my local community and all it has to offer; from the small book exchange boxes to the gorgeous bush tracks (often in the middle of busy areas) to the small animals and the neighbouring dogs who say hello, I appreciate the diversity of what all of it has to offer (something you could never see, feel or experience in a car).
One of my favourite things to watch is either the sunrise or the sunset from the top of the hill I have just climbed (and in my area, there are many). The colours of both events are magical and make me feel ridiculously good, something I never noticed through running.
The Queensland Walking Strategy 2012-2029, highlights the benefits including:
- walking is the most popular form of physical recreation in Queensland
- walking is easy to adopt and suitable for people of all ages – walking 30 mins each day is a great way to improve your health
- walking improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, negative moods and improving self-esteem.
On my walks, I have recently started listening to podcasts as well as downloading audiobooks and listening through my earbuds. This is a new world for me and one that I have embraced fully. I love nothing better than having dedicated time to spend on my favourite walking tracks, supported by good shoes that will go the distance, my earbuds, my dog and a terrific audiobook to listen to. It’s a new experience and the experience I need sometimes. I am not in a rush, and I often stop to take a closer look (again something I have never done before). The time flies.
My dog, Maggie, is a good reminder that I should walk. The fact that she clearly loves it supports the whole commitment. Just taking five steps towards the dog lead creates excitement in my house.
I make room for walking as it gives me back more, to my mental health, physical health, and my emotional health, than anything else in my life. I am so grateful I live in Queensland. Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Bribie Island are three favourite places to walk and I never book a holiday without planning my walking tracks. It’s not what I ‘like’ anymore, it’s now what I need to continue to succeed in the life I lead every day.
Someone once told me that this feeling I have is my attachment to my country. The feeling of being at peace, grounded and of belonging is tremendous. I know walking will be a part of life for the rest of my life.
Sometimes I take it for granted. At the age of 50, I have no aches or pains. My body is able to support walking which makes me feel good in return. However, that’s not the case for everyone.
Walking can be hard for the 900,000 Queenslanders who have a disability. With my father requiring a power wheelchair for mobility, I am reminded of this every day. He has incomplete quadriplegia but that doesn’t stop him, nor should it.
All of those positive attributes and emotions I enjoy from walking should be afforded to everyone, regardless of physical ability. Recently, my family went on a day trip to Bribie Island. I have never seen my dad happier than when he is at the beach. I saw a complete mood change in my Dad that became obvious through his physical demeanour. The smells, the sun, the warm temperatures, the bush (leading along the beach tracks), the birds and wildlife and the ambience attract the same magical feeling to Dad as he makes his way along the perfectly structured pathways (well done Bribie Island). When the kangaroos jumped out, that was something else (seriously)!
Due to my dad’s requirements, we only visit places that I know will be safe, easy for Dad to get around and accessible to toilets and parking. Queensland is getting better but we’re not there yet.
Our checklist includes:
- The width of the path
- Gaps between and dividing pathways. Why do these even exist?
- Is it even? What is it made out of?
- Is there a gradient?
- Accessibility of toilets
- Accessibility of parking
- Accessibility into shopping centres or shops
- What do the lifts look like? Can they fit a power chair?
- What surface are the picnic tables? Can Dad’s chair fit under the height of the tables?
- How windy is the area? Dad’s temperature drops very quickly – will we need warmer blankets if there are no windbreakers in the area? We need extra gloves and socks often.
My family and I often talk about the impact of having a physical disability and the challenges people living with a disability face. My father’s comments are always brilliant as he starts his statements with “Well, most people need much more support than I do”.
I want for everyone what walking affords me. It doesn’t need to be the physical. It can be the social, emotional and mental health benefits that are much more impactful anyway. Clearing the way for everyone to have access to this experience is a big job and it’s one I take very seriously. Queensland Walks are doing exactly that – driving walkability. This supports the health of the next generation of Queenslanders, no matter who you are or where you live
Words by Adjunct Professor Dr Robyn Littlewood, CEO Health and Wellbeing Queensland.