Months of lockdown, in which the chief entertainment has been to go for a walk, a daunder, an amble, has meant we may be feeling a lack of inspiration. But there’s always a way of rebranding a walk, reorienting it and putting it to a different purpose. A walk is not just a walk. It can be so much more. Walks aren’t just good for your body, they can help you solve problems, restore your focus and bring you more into harmony with those around. Here are 20 ideas for how to take a life-enhancing stroll from your own back door.

The awe walk

You don’t have to be strolling in the Cairngorms or along the mighty Seaton cliffs to have what’s called “an awe walk”. These can be everyday strolls in your local area, but the point is that while ambling around, you deliberately shift your attention outwards instead of inward. Instead of churning over that argument you had with your partner or that work deadline, you focus on what you can see, hear, feel and smell. In one study published in the journal Emotion, researchers found that those who took weekly 15-minute “awe walks” over a period of eight weeks, when compared with a control group who went out on ordinary walks, reported greater joy and also showed bigger smiles in the selfies they were asked to take. Remarkably, researchers found that over the period of the study, the awe group increasingly made themselves smaller in their photos, preferring to feature the landscapes around them. Try taking your walk at sunset for that extra atmospheric jolt of awe.

Walk your errands

Do the messages on foot. The route to the shops is your gym. In one British Journal of Sports Medicine report, Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis said that by adapting daily schedules, most people could exploit “incidental physical activity, which is any activity that is part of one’s daily living that is not done with the purpose of recreation or health, and requires no sacrifice of discretionary time. For example, walking or cycling to move from place to place, stair-climbing and active daily chores, such as carrying heavy shopping and house cleaning”.

See those heavy shopping bags as your friend. That walk can be all the more beneficial if you are carrying the equivalent of some kettle bells home. In fact, you can view yourself as doing a little Farmer’s Walk workout – it’s really not that different from the popular gym general strength exercise in which the exerciser holds a weight or a heavy load while walking in a straight line.

The signs of spring walk

Snowdrops, daffodils, crocuses in the park – those spring signs are popping up all over the place, bringing delight to early March. Make a mental note of them each time you see them. In early March, the noise of the dawn chorus, getting louder as the birds try to attract mates to their territories, is another herald of spring. Bright yellow celandines start to star the edge of woods. But you really know that spring has come when the bumblebees come out, the queens going in search of nectar to recharge their batteries as they go hunting for new places to start a colony.

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The signage spotter

There’s so much you can learn about the place you live in just from the signs – whether street names, or the old signage that often remains on old buildings indicating their former use. Take a notebook out and make a list. The names of the roads where you live can tell so much about what used to happen on them and also what landscape used to exist there.

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GPS doodling

Sometimes called Strava Art, this is the craft of using a global positioning system to create a route, which results in a figurative image in an app map. Though it has its roots back in the 1990s, when athlete Laura Kurgan started recording GPS locations and turned their display into an art exhibit, it was the American ultrarunner Callie Lauren who is widely credited as having kicked off the GPS art trend last year. With her competitive runs cancelled because of the pandemic, she was looking for something to entertain and motivate herself. Her first GPS art spelled out the words “Apart, together” on a route through Chicago’s parkways and avenues. However, you don’t have to run to create Strava art – you can just do it through walking. All you need is a GPS capable app. One comedian, raising money for testicular cancer, recently created his runs in the shape of the male phallus.

HeraldScotland: Undated handout photo issued by Anthony Hoyte of a cat recorded using a route of a map. Mr Hoyte creates art by planning intricate routes that form images on maps, then recording his bicycle rides on the Strava fitness tracker app. PA Photo. Issue date: M

The passagiata

A walk is an excuse to put on your gladrags and go on parade. Lift the spirits of your neighbours with your sartorial brilliance. So dump the trainers and leggings and put on some smart leather-uppers, a hat and bit of dapper, tailored style. Lockdown doesn’t mean that all of your snazziest outfits have to be imprisoned.

The audiobook amble

Most of us are spending too much time sitting on our backsides and staring at other people’s faces on video calls. Rather than having another Netflix dinner or binge watching, take an audiobook for a walk with you.

You could even choose a locally-set novel to take on your wanderings – Jenni Fagan’s Luckenbooth for Edinburgh, or Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain and Louise Welsh’s The Cutting Room for Glasgow – and stride right into the plot.

The walking meditation

The perfect type of meditation for those of us who can’t sit still, the idea here is to focus first on your footsteps and breathing, the balance and movement of your body, but then allow yourself to tune into the world around you, the birdsong, the ambient sound.

Several forms of Buddhism have a walking meditation practice called kinhin, which involves walking at a slow pace, back and forth, while focusing the attention on breathing, and the movement of the body. There are also numerous podcasts and

apps that provide guided walking meditations.

The mindfulness app, Headspace, hosts one and notes: “Meditating while walking is a way to get the mind to walk with us and to bring a relaxed focus to this everyday pursuit. It’s amazing how different we feel when paying attention to what’s going on around us rather than what’s swirling in our head.”

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Power walk

Otherwise known as speedwalking, this is essentially treating your walk like an aerobic workout and getting a brisk pace on. It’s good for the bones and good for cardiovascular health. A University of Pittsburgh study found that overweight people who walked briskly for 30 to 60 minutes a day lost weight even if they didn’t change any other lifestyle habits. Who needs a gym?

HeraldScotland: A Generic Photo of a middle aged couple walking together. See PA Feature WELLBEING Walking Tips. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature WELLBEING Walking Tips...

The attention-restorative walk

Struggling to concentrate after hours on Zoom? To get the full benefits of an attention-restorative walk you’re going to need to switch off your tech, take off your headphones, and allow your mind to wander, ideally in a nature-rich environment, and be gently fascinated. Attention Restoration Theory posits that the directed attention we are using when we concentrate is a finite resource, which we can exhaust. But a walk in nature, where our attention is less directed and more effortless, can help restore it.

This doesn’t happen so much in a noisy, hectic city street. A 2008 study, among others on the topic, shows how walking busy city streets requires people to use directed attention to navigate around large groups of tourists or to try to avoid getting hit by a car. The theory, originally developed by Rachel and Stephen Kaplan, asserts that people can concentrate better after spending time in nature, or even looking at scenes of nature.

The walk and talk

There’s no better situation for having a difficult conversation with a friend or family member, or letting off steam about a particular issue, than when you’re walking side by side.

One of the key things about walking together is that we, profoundly social animals that we are, mostly without any conscious thought at all, start to fall into rhythm with each other. Neuroscientist Shane O’Mara, in his blog, has observed: “We evolved as social walkers, making that long-ago journey out of Africa in small family and tribal groups. We are good at moving together and we enjoy it, synchronising our breathing, walking pace and conversation easily and swiftly.”

In 2019, East Lothian GP Pete Churn ran a monthly walking group from his surgery for patients struggling with their mental health. He notes that there’s something powerful about walking and talking: “When you are walking, side by side, people share much more than they would face to face. Everybody knows that the best conversations with kids are in the car, or side by side on a walk.”

Current restrictions allow us to go out for a walk with one other person outside our household, and as many as we like from within our own home.

The cake walk

Destination: favourite café. Support a local business that is offering takeaway by making a nice sugary bun or traybake the focus of your walk, or pick up a flat white to keep you company on your stroll. You can burn off those extra calories by picking up a brisk stride.

The photo walk

Edinburgh photographer Anna Deacon has been recommending regular photo walks in nature through her

@thethewildfix Instagram account. For her, the joy through lockdown has been in capturing “the small things” – the intricate patterns of bark, birds flying in the pink morning sky. She encourages people to go out with their phone or camera: “Look up, look down, stop, go slowly, watch the light play on the water, see how the sun haloes around a tree. Take your time and savour this: think of it as a way to calm and soothe your soul. Biophilia is the term for the innate human tendency to interact and connect with nature. It is known to induce calm and good feelings, and we all need more of those right now.”

The problem-solving walk

Walking has been found to make us more creative and to enable breakthroughs in problem-solving. The neuroscientist and walking advocate Shane O’Mara has advised that, if we have some problem to solve, we should write down in bullet points what it is we are seeking to answer or resolve, then just go out for a walk. “Prime yourself by writing down a few questions about what you have to do. Head off for a 15- or 20-minute stroll, and bring a voice recorder or a notebook. You’ll find you generate perhaps twice as many ideas compared to sitting at your desk.”

There is, O’Mara notes, an increasing body of research showing how profoundly walking helps our creativity. “A very simple way of demonstrating that,” he says, “is to do an experiment based around a common household object like a pen and I ask you to come up with as much uses for that as you can in the next three minutes. What you find is that if you get people to do a short period of movement, walk for five or ten minutes prior to generating these new creative ideas, they generate on average twice as many after having walked compared to those who are seated.”

The nature-spotter

Go out looking for the wildlife you already know or, better still, use your walk as a way of learning more by taking along a guidebook or phone app to help you identify new plants or animals. Record sightings of birds you have seen using the British Trust for Ornithology app, Birdtrack. Name that unfamiliar plant using PlantNet, a citizen scientist project on plant biodiversity, which allows you to identify plants by photographing them using your smartphone. Recognise a bird by its song, using the Warblr app. Set your alarm and get up in time for a dawn chorus stroll!

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The architectural daunder

This pandemic is an opportunity to learn more about your local architecture – even approach it in the way you would, as a tourist, the buildings of a foreign city. Get hold of an architectural guide to your area, if available, or look it up online. Now out of print, Freight Books published an excellent series for Edinburgh and Glasgow called Look Up. Its title is a reminder that a good architecture book is about looking up, at the rooftops. But it’s also about looking, or going, down that obscure alley you have never tried before.

The flânerie

We have the French poet Charles Baudelaire to thank for the ongoing cult of the flaneur, or city wanderer – the idler and loafer, who loiters or strolls the streets. Baudelaire described such a person as “the passionate spectator”. On one level flânerie is the opposite of “stay at home”, yet on another it is the perfect activity for the lockdown because it’s about watching and observing rather than getting involved.

Erika Owen, the author of The Art of Flaneuring: How to Wander with Intention and Discover a Better Life, has her own definition of flaneuring, describing it as “experiencing your environment without interacting with it”. We may not be allowed to meet people but we can certainly walk like a flaneur, passing (while keeping at a respectable social distance) the activities of our local streets and maybe pausing for the odd short exchange of hellos.

Some streets feel like they were created for this – my local Leith Walk, for instance, is like flaneur heaven.

The step count

Count those steps, though they don’t have to necessarily be the go-to 10,000 steps a day so often talked about. It turns out that these were just an arbitrary number and we’re only just beginning to get closer to the perfect minimum step goal for human health, though for most of us the answer is more than we’re already doing. Research published in JAMA Internal Medicine has shown that, on average, around 4,400 steps a day is enough to significantly lower the risk of death in older women, compared with those walking about 2,700 steps a day.

But the more steps people walked, the lower their risk of dying early was, before levelling off at around 7,500 steps a day. For many people having a pedometer, smartwatch or even just using their phone is a great motivator to just walk that little bit further each day to try to get to a goal distance.

The litter-picker walk

Last spring, during lockdown, Ramblers Scotland president Lucy Wallace noted in her blog that, since she had started walking in her village, she had noticed the rubbish that was all over the place.

“I’ve started taking a bag and gloves with me when I head out on my walks,” she wrote. “If I see something glinting at me from the undergrowth while I’m out, I put my gloves on and pop it in my bag.

“Most of what I find is shredded plastic or drinks bottles, but I do find some odd stuff, especially on the beach. Today I found a tiny toy soldier, hiding amongst the rocks on the shore.”

It was the Swedes who, in 2016, originally started a trend called plogging, merging the Swedish verbs plocka upp (pick up) and jogga (jog) to create the verb plogga. Now we have not just plogging but also plwalking, in which an ordinary walk is transformed into a litter pick.

Of course, this is easiest done with a litter-picker stick but, if you want to make your stroll into more of a full body workout, ditch the stick, put on the Marigolds and do the bend to pick up. You are now involved in a bending, squatting and stretching routine.

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The soundwalk

A soundwalk is a form of walking audio tour, in which you wander a particular route, accompanied by an atmospheric or storytelling soundtrack. One of the biggest hosts of these is the app Echoes Soundwalk, which offers walks in Edinburgh, but few in other parts of Scotland.

Glasgow Women’s Library has downloadable Women’s Heritage Walk audio tours. And, of course, in the absence of a soundwalk for your area, you can always create your own and share.

Please follow the Scottish Government’s latest coronavirus restrictions, see https://www.gov.scot/coronavirus-covid-19 for details