In a Time of Loneliness, Walking in My Neighborhood Gave Me a Sense of Community

It wasn't until I had to rely on my own two feet getting me around my college campus that I realized how much I genuinely enjoy walking. Getting stuck in a torrential downpour or trekking across school grounds in the blazing heat may not have been the most ideal, but as long as I had a pair of headphones, I was good to go.

Growing up, I was your average active kid. I played a few seasonal sports like basketball and volleyball and even joined a swim club as I ventured into junior high. Like most kids, sports were a place where I could channel all my energy and emotions while seeing actual progress. It was an outlet. As I got older and started to age out of year-round sports, I had to find other ways to stay healthy. So, I did what everyone else my age was doing, and I got a gym membership. But did I use it? Um, no, not really.

For me, going to the gym was labeled as something I had to do to either lose weight or keep myself from gaining weight. It was an equation; go to the gym and you'll lose a few pounds. But, I don't like those kind of mind games. I want to enjoy getting physical activity, and if I happen to shed a little, then that's a cherry on top.

Where I live, walking to work, or really anywhere, isn't a luxury I have. And it wasn't until the stay-at-home orders went into full affect that I was reunited with walking. I was brutally sore the day following my first real walk, but it felt good, and I noticed an immediate change in my overall mood. A brisk walk in the neighborhood is one of the few exercises where I don't feel like there's a hidden agenda. Not only has it given me a more realistic way to stay fit and healthy, but in a time of loneliness and despair, it's given me a sense of community. Most importantly, I actually like doing it!

I've met several neighbors and community members (from an appropriate distance, of course) that I probably never would have otherwise. And while a majority of the time the exchange of friendly smiles are hidden behind a mask, sometimes a little nod hello is the most human interaction I get that day. If this year has taught me anything, it's that it's the little things that can make a difference.

I look forward to the mingling, but it's been my mental health that has benefited the most. Afterwards, I'm less stressed, feel rejuvenated, and my anxiety is usually at a low. Apart from the fresh air, I think a large part of that is because I stick to a strict "no phone" policy. From the minute my foot hits the sidewalk, the phone goes in my fanny pack and remains untouched. (Shout-out to my workout playlist, which is so killer that I never have to worry about skipping a song.) Each walk is like hitting an emotional and mental reset button.

With an A-type personality, I crave concrete resolutions and being able to check something off a list, which walking has given me. Reach point A? Check! Unlike setting a 30-minute timer on an elliptical, walking forces me to set micro goals for myself: Once you've walked to the preschool, you've reached the halfway point; two miles more miles to go! Using a fitness tracker has helped me stay on top of my progress as well.

The pandemic has taken so much away from us, but in a weird way, I have to thank it for giving me the opportunity to reconnect with an activity that brings me joy. I've been able to find different paths in my neighborhood and create a routine that I can put in motion going forward. To say I'm appreciative of the internal peace walks have given me during these uncertain times would be an understatement. And I can now confidently say, wherever I move next will need to be walking distance to almost everything.