A defining moment for me was when my spouse and I separated, and I began taking 15,000 steps daily by walking.
On a hot night in 2020, while we were sipping wine in our backyard shed during the initial lockdown, my spouse and I made the unexpected choice to end our 17-year partnership. “This is it, isn’t it?” I asked. “I know,” he responded, gazing at his drink. “I think about it every day.” The unspoken thoughts had finally been voiced.
As I took a deep breath, I suddenly felt a sense of relief as my recent frustrations seemed to disappear. We raised our glasses to our newfound honesty and stayed up late chatting, proud of how civilized we were. However, the next morning brought the harsh reality: it felt strange to sit together on a sunny bench, sipping coffee from a takeout cup, while still holding true to our agreement. I couldn’t ignore the fact that I was also dealing with grief, having lost my father and our beloved jack russell in a short amount of time. Was I making the right decision? Was it too much to start over in my mid-40s? And all of this during the ongoing pandemic. The stifling heat only added to the weight of it all.
I concluded that the best way to understand everything was to go out and take a walk. The thought of walking 15,000 steps each day came to me quickly, as an attainable goal that I believed would bring consistency and solace, a routine to guide me through the next phase of my life. As a writer who focuses on travel, I have written about walking on occasion, such as completing the 78-mile Capital Ring walk in one week or hiking the Kent coast in a weekend. However, having a daily step goal was a new experience. My father’s go-to saying was “walking solves everything.”
The scorching temperatures eventually subsided. During the persistent downpour that followed, I discovered solace in my two-hour hikes. Fortunately, I am surrounded by the towering trees and winding paths of Epping Forest in London, as well as the rivers, canals, and wetlands of the Olympic Park, and the semi-wild marshes near Hackney and Walthamstow. I would find my pace and feel as though I could continue indefinitely, with my anxieties fading into the background. As I took deeper breaths, my mind would settle, and along with journaling, it became my form of therapy. To help me stay on track, I also utilized the Pacer app – I quickly realized that this goal was becoming addictive.
As the winter season approached, so did wet and muddy trails, sparse forests, and the low afternoon sun. My former partner and I, now apart, would occasionally get together to continue our conversations, but our thoughts were already made up. In the meantime, I would seek out lesser-known paths, with my own set of guidelines: podcasts or music could only be listened to during the “boring parts” – the same stretches of sidewalks on busy roads. It was more rejuvenating to be present and aware, whether through gentle meditation exercises or reflecting on the unfinished novel that I was having difficulty with.
When the inevitable hunger pangs struck, accompanied by the desire to lay down, there was a lingering sense that time had been used productively. My quality of sleep also improved.
Many people have told me, in a slightly condescending manner, that they are too busy to reach the goal of 15,000 steps per day. However, as a freelancer, this goal provides structure for my work week and is easily incorporated into my routine. I can easily achieve it by walking to and from my co-working space or exploring a new neighborhood for a night out. Depending on the season, my approach may vary – for example, in hot weather, I may opt for early morning walks while in winter, I may wait for the day to warm up. On days when I am feeling under the weather, I have even managed to reach a couple thousand steps within my own apartment (fortunately, I live on the ground floor and won’t disturb my neighbors).
When I finally decided to download dating apps, it was the first time I had ever done so. As a result, I started to prioritize walking and working out more in order to feel attractive and boost my confidence.
After three years since our divorce, my ex and I have become close friends and we are both content in our new romantic relationships. My current partner finds it entertaining, though not completely convinced, when I share my daily step count with them. However, I am not as strict about it as I used to be. Some days my total is lower, while other days it is higher, but overall, my monthly average remains on track. Most significantly, this habit serves as a reminder for me that life is constantly changing and evolving, and it brings back memories of the moment in my garden shed that sparked a new beginning.