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 Emily, a student at University of Leeds, 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 use walking to get around?
Pretty much always at uni, except to get to local sports club training. I'm always walking with someone I know which is fun, plus walking is definitely the best way to get to uni because it's only about a 10-20 minute walk.
When you had exams/essays to write, how did walking or other forms of activity help?
It’s a great way to chill before an exam, chat with friends and get some fresh air. It tends to give you a chance to discuss what you're studying too, or take your mind off it depending what you want. If I have an essay due and I've been sat in the library all day, the walk home definitely feels good to clear my head and get some time to myself before going home! Quite often when me and my housemates were stressing about revision we would walk somewhere nice in Leeds and take some work, have an hour or two long walk and then sit in a cafe for a change of scene. It's good because it feels like a break from work but is also great exercise, definitely important for our sanity.
When you move into your next chapter, when do you think you will walk?
Ideally I would love to live somewhere in walking distance from work, but if not then I’d walk to explore my new city. I love just going for walks and finding green parts of a city! During lockdown the best way to meet up with friends was to go on a walk, so I think I'd like to carry on doing that too.
With the current pandemic, what barriers will there be to get students walking?
I think the main barriers will be that more lectures will be online, so students will be less motivated to walk to campus. Also, they may have chosen to drive rather than get public transport to their uni house, since it's lower risk. If they have a car, it's easy to just use it for everything, even just a short trip to the shops that could have been a walk. On the other hand, I had a car in Leeds and found it opened up a whole load of new walks further out of the city. I actually discovered so much about Leeds during lockdown because there was nothing to do, we couldn't just go to the pub! But if that info was more easily available maybe I would have found it earlier.
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.
The restrictions of Covid-19 means that the way we socialise has changed, with limits on indoor gatherings and large groups. Fortunately, the act of walking with people helps to navigate these rules while still building important social connections. Walking has a well recorded history for being a great social activity – with some researchers (including the neuroscientist Shane O’Mara) believing it to be the number one skill that helped our species build the global human community.
If you’re anything like me, you know that maintaining eye contact with new people is difficult – especially in face to face situations. So going on a walk, talking side by side, is a good way to ease off some of this discomfort. There are even some medical professionals (like certified counsellor Lucy Cavendish) that have started using this as a model for therapy – evidencing how effective walking and talking can be to develop meaningful connections quickly.
The process of walking can help your learning too. If you’ve had a difficult lecture, or had to do some mind-bending reading, then walking alone or with others provides opportunities to digest new ideas. It’s important to remember this when more and more learning opportunities will take place through online forums.
Walking is also a great way to develop creative thinking – so if you’ve got a difficult paper to write then getting away from the laptop can help with this process. If you’re extra keen (and don’t mind some strange looks from passers-by) then try walking and dictating your essay onto your smartphone. I bet you’ll be surprised by the high word count this can bring in a short space of time!
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Mental Health Ambassadors at a school in South Gloucestershire tell us how walking is helping their wellbeing.