The month of May celebrates National Walking Month in the United Kingdom – what better way to watch the splendour of Summer unfold. The good news with Walking is… to take part you don’t need to take lessons or upgrade your skillset; it doesn’t cost you anything; it is broadly accessible; it is rarely associated with injury and it can be adopted at all ages!
Walking as an activity unfolded over time. It was in 1140 that pilgrimages on the Camino de Santiago had become so popular that the world’s first travel guide, “Codex Calixtinus” was published. In the 1600’s King Charles II of England racewalked from Whitehall to Hampton Court (13 miles) There were numerous feats and milestones met including the worlds first walking club in Germany 1864 (and it’s still going!) 1860 to 1903 is known as the Pedestrian Age when walking was the leading sport in Europe and America. (1)
Why walk? When you see the benefits, the question you would most likely ask yourself is Why wouldn’t you walk? The positive impact on your Physical and Mental Health is profound.
“Walking is the answer to help reduce the burden of long-term health conditions.”
Walking for Health Report, Supported by the Chief Medical Officer for England.
Physical benefits when getting those legs moving for just 30 minutes every day, increases your heart and lung fitness, reducing the risk of heart disease and a stroke.
It improves management of conditions like hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, joint and muscular pain or stiffness, and diabetes. Walking is a weight bearing activity (you carry your own weight) and subsequently promotes stronger bones, improved balance, increased muscle strength and endurance. Done briskly and regularly it can help reduce body fat too. (2)
More and more studies are emerging to support the link between keeping active to promote positive mental health. The Department of Health and many other researchers offer evidence to say physical activity like walking, can be as effective as antidepressants or psychotherapy in treating mild or moderate depression, particularly in the longer term.(3)
Physiologically, we experience a release of serotonin and endorphins which are both mood enhancers. The social impact of walking with a friend, albeit at a distance, is very positive too. Taking it one step further is throwing “nature” into the blend, the combination of walking and nature offer a unique elixir which Mind Charity call “ecotherapy”. They maintain this should be recognised as
a clinically valid treatment for mental distress. Mind’s report (4) on the benefits of walking is giving rise to setting a new green agenda for mental health with a push to acknowledge ecotherapy as a recognised aspect of clinical help.
Mind Charity Report uncovers:
• 71 per cent reported decreased levels of depression after a green walk
• 71 per cent said they felt less tense after a green walk
• 90 per cent had increased self-esteem after a country walk
Another pioneering project led by neuroscientist, Dr Mechelli, scientifically reinforces, walking outdoors has a positive effect on our mental health. We are talking about long country walks, being amongst nature, listening to bird song and exposing ourselves to the sky (whatever the weather). (5)
“The mental health benefits of going for a walk can last for 7 hours, according to this pioneering new study”
Urban Mind Project, Dr Mechelli
To get the health benefits, try to walk briskly for at least 30 minutes a day. ‘Brisk’ means that you can still talk but not sing, and you may be puffing slightly.
Walking poses little health risk but, if you have a medical condition, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor before starting any new exercise programme of physical activity. If walking for 30 minutes at one time is too challenging for you, try regular small bouts (10 minutes) three times per day and gradually build up to longer sessions. As your fitness builds, continue to increase your intensity. You can do this by:
• walking up hills
• walking with hand weights
• increasing your walking speed gradually by including some quick walking
• walking for longer
Hippocrates the Greek physician who is also referred to as the “Father of Western Medicine” once said, “walking is the best medicine” – it remains a timeless non-pharmacological prescription for wellbeing and longevity.
Go on then… put one foot in front of the other and then keep going, it is that simple! Stay healthy and enjoy.
Leigh McKay BSc (Hons) is a Mental Health First Aid England Approved Instructor and Wellbeing Consultant and the founder of Work Wise Wellness. Her aim is to create value by enhancing performance and engagement in companies through sustainable, targeted Wellbeing initiatives.
If you would like further information or support in your business please connect with Leigh on LinkedIn
References: (1) https://www.verywellfit.com/a-brief-history-of-walking-3436273
(3) (3) Department of Health. At Least Five a Week: Evidence on the Impact of Physical Activity and its Relationship to Health — A Report from the Chief Medical OfficeThe impact of walking on Mental Health https://www.c3health.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/C3-report-on-walking-v-1-20120911.pdf Atkinson, M. and L. Weigand, ‘A review of literature: the mental health benefits of walking and bicycling’ (2008):
MIND report; https://www.mind.org.uk › news-campaigns › news › go-green-to-beat-the.blues