walk this way | 7 simple suggestions

I’m sure your age probably determined what popped into your head when you saw “walk this way” as this post title; if you’re older, you probably flashed back to Monty Python’s “Ministry of Silly Walks” sketch or Marty “Eggs” Feldman as Igor in Young Frankenstein; if you’re a bit younger, it was probably Aerosmith and/or Run DMC.

Two years ago, I wrote about the pleasures and benefits of walking—particularly in nature—as exercise. Kermit the Dog was just a pup then, and since that time, he’s become known as the most-walked dog in our subdivision although I might argue that with him as my personal trainer and accountability buddy, I might be the most-walked human in the subdivision!

Because Kermit requires a lot of exercise (or maybe because I do), I have found ways to intentionally multitask: some walks in the neighborhood are the perfect opportunity to catch up on podcasts, some I use to chat on the phone with friends and family. And it turns out that “walking meetings” are a great replacement for (and better for us than) the interminable cups of coffee I was drinking while networking 1:1.

sharing my air

As the Covid-19 pandemic shut down gyms, Kermit and I saw an uptick in the neighborhood’s walkers and runners, sometimes to the point where I wondered how many droplets I was inhaling and wanted to scream, “Stop breathing my air!”

(That line comes from a friend who was raising tween boys as a single mom. One day, they were fussing at each other in the back seat of the car, and she finally told them to each keep to a side of the car and not let even a finger stray across the middle line. A minute later, one started whining, and when asked what the trouble was this time, claimed, “He’s breathing my air!”)

No, I was delighted to see so many neighbors out and about and have them share my air. In fact, after living here for 10+ years, I saw people I’d never seen before, and I finally made some connections between who lives in which house—something that never would have happened if we’d each kept our regular routines.

privileged pandemic

I suspect that most of these neighbors will go back to their gym routines at some point, and I (mostly secretly) celebrate the fact that the pandemic had exactly zero effect on my own physical activity level since I haven’t been in a gym for more than five years.

It may be one of the reasons that I’ve managed to keep off what’s now being called the “quarantine 15” or even the “covid 19.” The PT, yoga, and body weight resistance training I do at home, coupled with the walking and hiking Kerm and I do were unaffected by restrictions.

We are privileged in this way—I understand that in some places, such as Italy, you had to notify the government that you had a dog and also when you walked that dog outside. As a result, some pet owners were able to make some money by renting out their dogs because those who don’t own pets were desperate to get outdoors and couldn’t do so without a pup.

We’re also privileged to live in an area where the nature trails are plentiful and to have lots of friends who love to walk. At a time when our primary food areas of time in nature and time with friends could have been severely curtailed, we still managed to nourish ourselves in this way.

I’m also grateful that the bulk of the lockdown happened when the weather was already getting warmer!

walk this way

One of the creepiest moments I experienced early on in the lockdown was a stark reminder of the new world we live in. In my neighborhood, there is a group I often see because our walks take place at about the same time. During the first week of the lockdown, I looked up to see a line of people walking toward me on the horizon, stretching across the road—and it could have been straight out of The Walking Dead!

Even going for a walk—whether in the neighborhood or in nature—has changed during the pandemic. I noticed that the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy now has Covid-19 guidelines on their website.

If you have not been out to walk in a few months, it’s allowed in your area, and you’re ready to try it, you may be wondering about how to do it safely.

Here are a few suggestions I’ve gleaned from my research into the topic and from my own experience—please note that these are suggestions, NOT rules and regulations issued by any authority:

  1. Stay on top of your local guidelines: if walking outdoors is permitted, keep reading; if it’s not, stop reading, and please remember that your right to do something is always balanced with your responsibility to keep others safe.
  2. Know yourself and honor your own needs: many people have developed a fear of the outdoors and/or of being in close proximity to others during these months. If that’s you, please get help and don’t go outdoors to walk because someone else says you “should.”
  3. Honor the state of your immune system—and that of others: if you don’t feel well or have been sick in the past few weeks, get some sunshine by an open window or in the shelter of your own yard.
  4. If you’re walking with someone who lives in your home, there’s little need to keep apart or mask up unless one of you has recently been ill. (Yes, the women in the picture above must be part of the same family!) If you do go for a walk with others who are not part of your immediate household, keep six feet apart whenever possible. If you’re walking in a neighborhood, you may need to share the sidewalk or road with cars, bikes, and other walkers and runners. Now that more businesses are open and people are going back to work, it’s no longer possible to walk down the middle of the street to keep six feet away from your walking partners without getting hit or at a minimum inspiring the wrath of drivers. Whether you’re a walker or a driver, remember the key word is to share the road.
  5. If you’re walking in nature, you may need to keep six feet apart from your companions or other parties by walking single file and by stepping aside to let others pass—watch out for poison ivy!
  6. To mask or not to mask: in Michigan, masks are required inside public spaces. The outdoor spaces are an odd sort of everyone for him or herself, and again, this is where we need to remember that our right to not wear a mask outdoors needs to be balanced with our responsibility to keep others safe. Although I dislike the inflammatory tone of this piece, I have to agree with John Pavlovitz’s comment that “a mask is a stupid hill to die on, America.” If you’re walking with someone who is not in your immediate household and can’t keep six feet apart, you need to agree on the mask issue—I highly recommend that if one person prefers to mask, you all do it. There are those with invisible disabilities who need to take extra precautions. That said, contracting the virus seems to depend most on two factors: concentration (how much of the virus is present) and exposure (how long you’re exposed to it in high concentrations). Meeting or passing someone—even if they’re breathing heavily—is unlikely to make you sick, but again, you need to be comfortable, so wear a mask yourself if you’re nervous about it.
  7. Don’t touch your face when you’re outside, wash your hands and change your clothes when you get home, then wash your hands again. I’m not particularly worried about the virus, so I don’t wash my outdoor clothes each time I get home—and it’s an option if you’re concerned. Now might be a good time to make a habit of wearing certain clothes and shoes outside and others indoors. (I would venture to say that the majority of cultures have this habit while Americans don’t although in the past few decades, I’ve noticed an uptick in people removing their shoes at the door.)

make the connection

Physical activity, time with friends, time with pets, time in nature—these are all vital primary foods. How are you nourishing yourself in these areas these days, and what tips would you add for keeping these activities safe as the lockdowns are easing up?