About a year ago, I contributed a chapter to a book called the The Healing Power of Nature – Your Environment and Foods. My chapter was called How Walking Out In Nature Can Lift Your Mood. The research I did for my chapter lead me to the realisation that there is much more to walking than many of us realise.
I am a passionate walker and I am passionate about walking! Walking is good for our health – we know that don’t we? If you are new to exercise, then walking is the best place to start. When you can walk comfortably for 30 minutes start to think about ways you can make your walking more challenging – walk faster and further or add in some hills.
Benefit number 1 then is the positive impact of walking on our physical health. Walking raises our heart rate and is therefore good for our heart health. Walking strengthens muscles and bones so therefore reduces our risk of osteoporosis. Walking, as with all exercise, helps moderate blood glucose levels so therefore helps reduce our risk of insulin resistance and Type 2 Diabetes. Studies have also shown that regular walking supports good gut health. Walking assists the passage of food through our intestines and also aids gas clearance. Nothing like a good fart when you’re out walking – ideally not within earshot of fellow walkers!! Walking also contributes to production of BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor) and yes, this means it’s good for our brain health too! It’s clear then that walking for our physical health is a no brainer!
However, walking is so much more than a physical activity.
Benefit number 2 is the positive impact on our mood. Hippocrates is famously quoted as saying “If you are in a bad mood, go for a walk. If you’re still in a bad mood, go for another walk!” During the first lockdown in 2020, a survey showed that 85% of adults reported that being out in nature makes them happy. So next time you are feeling grumpy try going out for a walk!
Benefit number 3 is how walking boosts our creative thinking. In his book “In Praise of Walking” the author, Shane O’Mara tells us that walking is not only associated with improved mood but also with improved creativity and a general sharpening of our thinking. So if you are feeling mentally stuck on something, try going out for a walk instead of sitting at your desk and feeling frustrated . I personally find walking really helps me clear my mind and helps me to focus on what is important.
Benefit number 4 is that walking is a stress management tool. Walking can be mindful and a meditative experience. Try leaving your phone at home next time you go for a walk. Spend your walk focused on nature – quietly observe all things that are green (Spring and Summer) or all things brown and orange (Autumn and Winter); listen out for bird song and use your nose too. What can you smell? Gently bat away thoughts of work or what you are going to do when you get home. Practice being in the moment. Forest bathing (Shinrin-Yoku) has also been proven to reduce stress. It isn’t necessarily about walking in a forest it’s just about being in a forest (although I imagine you usually have to walk to get into the forest). Engaging your sense of smell is key because it’s the phytoncides (essential oils) released by trees that reduce our stress hormones.
Benefit number 5 is how walking can improve sleep quality. Getting outside early in the morning helps to set our circadian rhythm which in turn helps us sleep. Our body clock responds to light and dark so walking early in the morning sets us up for the day and walking at dusk or at least dimming the lights will help us wind down at night and ready the body for sleep. As a bonus, according to neuroscientist, Professor Andrew Huberman, walking in the early morning light releases a hormone produced in by the pituitary gland called MSH, which reduces our appetite throughout the day! MSH is triggered by ultra violet light falling on the cells at the back of our eyes so don’t wear sunglasses!
I hope these 5 benefits of walking will encourage you to get out and walk more. Regular walking is so good for us and it’s free!
Let me know in the comments how you feel about walking. If you’d like to buy the book my chapter appears in then it is available on Amazon or I can send you a copy for £10 (most of that is postage!). Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org