Jessie Davidson, Living Streets Schools Coordinator, explains how walking can help university students during the current pandemic.
Autumn is fast approaching, and most of us are concerned about what this change in season might mean during the pandemic and the impact this will have on our day to day lives, especially students who are starting or returning to university.
Perhaps some of the most affected by the current pandemic are the students who are trying to make a new start in life, moving away from home to start university or higher education courses. This year freshers are not only moving to a new city, meeting new friends and grappling with academic challenges, but also, they are managing the stress of life during a pandemic. They are facing unprecedented challenges: worries about local lockdown restrictions; forming (and nurturing!) relationships at a distance; getting the most out of a more “virtual” degree; and, the financial impact of living through a pandemic.
I caught up with Josh, a new student at University of Sheffield, who's facing some of these issues. We had a chat about ways that walking can help throughout university, and especially during Covid-19.
When do you currently walk?
I like to go walking every morning if I can. It helps me start the day well and enjoy some time to myself.
When you had exams, how did walking or other forms of activity help?
When I had exams, I found that walking and staying active was a really important way of coping. Giving myself a break from revision and work enabled me to reenergise for the next task. The ability to control how fast I walk and therefore how hard I work provided a refreshing contrast to the high-pressure, high-stakes environment of exams.
When you go to your new uni, when do you think you will walk?
I'm planning to live a short distance from the city centre at Uni, so I expect walking will still be a large part of my day and I'll be able to start my day with a walk to lectures and talks. As I don’t drive, I'll depend on walking and public transport to get around a lot, particularly to get to the Peak District which is close to my new city of Sheffield. I can’t wait to get out and explore this popular walking area with new friends.
With the current pandemic, what barriers will there be to get freshers walking in their new setting?
While the current climate restricts a lot of elements of old ‘normal’ life, I think there will be less barriers to freshers walking than before. Obviously, we all have to respect distancing, which makes walking in public a more conscious process. However, at a time when it’s possible to feel or have felt closed in and isolated, I think walking will continue to provide a welcome opportunity to get out and enjoy the open world.
It’s clear from this conversation that walking is an integral part of the student experience – perhaps more than we realise! Going into the new term, here are some recommendations and challenges on how to make the most of walking during this very unique time.
Lots of freshers will be moving to a new city or neighbourhood that they haven’t experienced before, and it can be a scary time when some might feel uncomfortable and anxious.
The best way to get to know a new place, and feel at home there, is to walk around it. Lots of unis have walking or cycling maps for their campuses, and if you’re venturing into town many councils provide active travel routes for their residents. Learning these walking and cycling corridors early in university is really useful, as they can save time and often have much more space for socially distanced walking than the standard routes. When I was in my first year at uni I learnt about the pedestrian bridge over the river and it saved me loads of time and taxi money!
Starting uni at such a strange time will feel stressful and daunting. It’s important to give yourself some time to relax and slow down the whirring brain.
Freshers are lucky to experience this personal change during autumn, as this is a great time of year to appreciate the seasons and notice nature’s bounty. You don’t have to travel far from campus to find wildlife and foraging opportunities – stop and pause to watch butterflies or pick some blackberries for a cheap and healthy smoothie. Even just sitting to observe the fading or falling leaves can be calming.
What can older people do this National Walking Month to keep walking, keep active and keep well?
Mental Health Ambassadors at a school in South Gloucestershire tell us how walking is helping their wellbeing.