Walk to Health & Happiness this National Walking Month
Every May in the UK we celebrate National Walking Month – a great excuse to get outdoors and enjoy the beautiful geography that our island has to offer, not to mention the fantastic mental and physical health benefits that come with being more physically active.
There’s something about walking that quietens my mind and soothes my soul. Is it the rhythm of my feet hitting the pavement or the regularity of my breath? I don’t know how many miles I’ve walked during lockdown – I suspect not as many as I think I have!
We know that the Department of Health recommends that we should do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week, so that equates to 30 minutes walking over 5 days. Definitely doable! Moderate intensity means your breathing is faster, your heart rate is faster and you feel warmer. In other words, you could still keep up a conversation, but you wouldn’t be able to sing your favourite tune!
Walking doesn’t need any fancy gear, just a decent pair of trainers to give you adequate support – important for me with my dodgy back and hips.
The Mental Health Benefits of Walking
When it comes to putting one foot in front of the other, you may think that it’s all about improving your physical health. But actually, our mental health can benefit greatly from taking a regular stroll. Some of the key mental health benefits of walking include:
- Improves your mood.
- Reduces stress.
- Helps manage anxiety.
- Helps you sleep better.
- Increases your energy.
- Helps you cope with difficult times.
- Improves your confidence and self-esteem.
- Reduces the risk of depression.
Wow! That’s a lot of benefits from a half-hour walk five times a week, and I certainly experienced them during this difficult past year. It didn’t matter to me that gyms or pools were closed, or that organised sports like football and tennis were not going ahead, as walking has been my go-to exercise since the start of said dodgy back and hip. It’s walking that has seen me through the hardest of times, whether that has been the pandemic, or not being able to physically do anything but walk.
The sense of freedom walking gives you is second to none, even when you’re just walking around the block. I’ve connected with people through a smile, a hello or a ‘thank you’ as we’ve danced around who steps off the pavement to let the other one pass. I saw the building of a whole extension on the side of a stranger’s house during that first lockdown and looked forward to seeing the progress as I passed by every couple of days. I found alleyways and roads and streets that I never knew existed, even though I’ve lived in this neighbourhood for nearly 20 years. I loved the lack of traffic noise, fewer aeroplanes flying overhead from Heathrow airport and instead learned to distinguish the difference between the birdsong of a robin from a lark, and smiled when I passed by and heard the giggling of children playing in their garden.
The Physical Health Benefits of Walking
It goes without saying that walking is one of the best things that you can do for your physical health. Almost anyone can do it and, more often than not, you can tie it into other activities throughout your day, like getting to work, the school run, taking pets out, or just popping to the shops. The key physical health benefits of walking are:
- Helps you maintain a healthy weight.
- Keeps your muscles and bones healthy.
- Increases your cardiovascular fitness.
- Helps boost your vitamin D levels (on a sunny day, of course.)
The sense of moving my body when being at home all day was such a relief. I could feel my muscles stretch and the tension in my back and shoulders ease as I walked around. I tried to include walking up a particular hill near me, as it was my only form of cardio that I could manage with a limp. And when I had my hip surgery the nurse said she could tell how much walking I had been doing pre-op, as my muscles were kicking in nicely during physio afterwards and so my rehab was quicker. RESULT!
Summer is just arriving so go on, pop on your trainers, grab a rain jacket (once a Girl Guide, always a Girl Guide) and go for a walk. Keep your eyes and your ears open; take a chance and smile at the person approaching, you might just be giving them the only smile they’ve seen all day; revel in the fact that you have a body that can move, however dodgy or slow it goes. Discover the joy and the freedom that comes with taking a regular walk, knowing that you are not only building up your physical health, but also taking a proactive approach to helping your mental health too. It’s a win-win!
If you would enjoy the company of others on your walks why not try:
www.ramblers.org.uk – The Ramblers website, with details of how to find a group near you.
www.bhf.org.uk – Website of the British Heart Foundation, with details of different walking groups to suit your pace.