Walk your way to wellbeing

“If a medication existed which had a similar effect to physical activity like walking, it would be regarded as a ‘wonder drug’ or a ‘miracle cure’”.

England’s Chief Medical Officer (2010)

Is going for a stroll really a miracle cure for poor health and wellbeing? GPs in the Shetland Islands in Scotland seem to think so. They have started prescribing rambling and beach walks to help treat mental ill health, stress and other health conditions.

In aid of National Walking Month this May, today’s post and activity explores how going for a walk can have multiple benefits for our wellbeing.

The physical health benefits of walking

Brisk walking has the most benefits for our physical health. To tell if you are walking briskly, you should:

  • Feel your heart beating a bit faster
  • Feel a bit warmer
  • Be breathing a little faster
  • Still be able to talk and feel comfortable

If Richard’s real-life story in last week’s post wasn’t convincing enough to get you to start running, walking can be just as beneficial. Although it takes longer, walking a mile burns approximately the same amount of calories as running one.

Physical activity such as walking briskly can improve the quality of sleep we get due to feeling more tired at the end of the day. Regular brisk walking can lower our blood pressure and help us feel less stressed and regularly walking at any speed can help manage our weight.

How walking can benefit our mental wellbeing

Those who walk regularly experience an improved self-image, reduced symptoms of anxiety and improved mood. Spending time in natural environments and being outdoors can also have a positive effect on our mental health. Brief walks in natural rather than urban environments can significantly improve mood.

Going for a walk with someone else can help us connect with them or joining a walking group can help us meet new people and make friends. Participating in group walks can help overcome social isolation and improve mental health.

‘Walking is the nearest activity to perfect exercise.’

Morris & Hardman (1997)

For many of us, walking is one of the easiest ways to increase the amount of physical activity we do, because:

  • It’s free – there’s no need to join a gym or pay club membership fees
  • We can go for a walk anytime and anyplace that suits us
  • Walking is a low impact exercise, which means the risk of injuries and accidents is low
  • There’s no need to just focus on walking, we can enjoy our natural surroundings or chat to the person we’re walking with or people we encounter on our walk
  • No training is required, just get up and go!

As well as being easy to do, we can incorporate other wellbeing themes besides physical health and connection into our walks. For example:

  • Mindfulness – going for a mindful walk, smelling the flowers or feeling the texture of the leaves we pass on our way
  • Creativity – if you’re a budding photographer, going for a walk can provide you with new scenes and moments to capture
  • Learning – you may walk somewhere with an interesting history, or spot something that captures your interest. Walks can be used to spark our curiosity and learn more.
  • Reflection – walking can help us reflect on events that have happened recently, or process experiences

This week’s activity is – you guessed it – to go for a walk. Though there’s more to it than that. Remember when you were a kid and you used to walk along walls, jump in puddles and clamber over rocks? On your walk, try harnessing that exploratory nature and go off the beaten track. If you come across a tree trunk, why not climb it? If you see a pile of leaves, kick your way through them. Really embrace your surroundings (but please make sure you are safe while you do it).

My friends and I walking on Hampstead Heath, making our way off the main path into the wilderness

Click the link below to download the worksheet. You can fill it in using the ‘fill and sign’ tool or alternatively print it off and fill it in by hand.

If you enjoyed walking off the beaten track, please do get in touch and share your story.

I share wellbeing-related research, news and stories on twitter and Instagram inbetween weekly blog posts so do follow @15minwellbeing on both platforms tokeep up to date.

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