The habit of walking

Last Friday I began what I intend to be a new habit: walking to the village each morning to get my daily newspaper. I’ve been convinced to attempt this by reading about the many benefits of regular walking, both for body and mind. I’ve been in favour of a daily walk for a long time, but somehow there has never seemed to be a good time of the day to fit it in. Then it occurred to me that the pre-breakfast time, when I sit and drink coffee and listen to the Today programme, was an available slot. Moreover, it’s the time when my brain is waking up, and potentially at its most creative. So why not walk then?

So far, the plan is working. I get up shortly after 6am (a long-time habit, and no hardship), wash and dress, go out to my office (the garage block by the house), make a mug of coffee, and listen to the radio (by then it’s the financial news on the Today programme). Then at about 6.30am I put on trainers and set off up the lanes. Right now, of course, the weather is perfect: the air cool but not chilly, the sun rising over the fields of tall maize. My walk is a circular trip, a little under three miles, and takes me forty minutes. As I walk I think about my current writing project, and listen to the birds, and glimpse the scurrying rabbits, and nod at the odd passing car (most often I can’t see through the windscreen because of reflected light, but the chances are I know the driver, so I nod anyway). At the start of my loop there’s a long rising hill, so by the top of it I’m warm. As I go through the village, most of the houses are dark. The village shop is bright, the paper boy getting ready for his round. I carry my paper in a light nylon rucksack so that my arms are free as I walk. I don’t know why this is necessary, but it is. And so on through the village and back past farms and fields of grazing cows, my brain now buzzing with ideas, down the ever-narrowing lanes, to home.

I arrive warm enough to shed my jacket. By 7.15am I’m having my breakfast and reading the paper. By 7.45am I’m at my desk and at work. My body feels thoroughly awake, as does my brain. So it’s all working as planned.

But will I keep it up?

Two tests await me. One is bad weather: rain and cold and early morning darkness. Once the clocks go back my entire walk will take place in the dark. The other is weakness of will. At present the idea is fresh and exciting, and I’m secretly proud of myself. How will it be when going on walking has no novelty, but causes me mild distress? My great hope is that before that time comes I will have created a habit. I’m a great believer in habits. They deliver me to my desk, and cause me to work hard every day, simply because I’ve been doing the same thing for so long now. Once I establish a habit, it’s easier to repeat the pattern than to break it. For example, long ago, chastised for not cleaning the bath, I forced myself to clean the bath every time I used it. Within a very short time I was unable to leave a bath without cleaning it. But I also have a long history of broken habits, or habits that I have attempted to form and failed. I’ve tried to stop myself having a glass of wine in the early evening, and to stop myself accompanying that glass with some crisps, but every evening my yearning body says, Just this one more time.

It may sound as if I have a puritan drive in me, but I don’t think I have. I’m a great indulger, I like wine with dinner, I love good food. But I’m 66 years old, and I don’t want to grow obese, and I don’t want to become immobile. I want to stay physically  and mentally active for the next thirty years. So I hope to create this habit of walking early every morning, and make it so powerful that it carries me off even as I protest that I don’t want to go.

Four mornings down. We’ll see how far I get.