Walking is something so simple that can unlock numerous benefits. I’d like to take you through some of my personal experiences and in particular highlight how walking has done wonders for both my mental and physical health and wellbeing.
Last year was a remarkable year for many reasons and the first thing I wasn’t used to was having to spend so much time by myself. I am such a people person and I found this difficult at first. I needed an outlet to escape the obvious cabin fever that was taking its toll. When Boris announced that we could go out for 1 form of exercise for up to an hour daily, I immediately had a solution. Over time, the lockdown restrictions weren’t so strict and allowed for travel and ‘unlimited exercise’. We were blessed! Even in the early stages, I had a feeling that walking would be the best bet for me. I’ve never enjoyed running (although I dabble in that now!) but I had always enjoyed the great outdoors after spending much time with my parents in the hills and mountains growing up. The irony of this whole thing was that I have never spent so much time outside in my life compared to a year full of ‘lockdowns’.
Walking gives me a chance to press pause on everything else that is going on in my life, it helps me to gather my thoughts, clear my head if needed and it’s certainly been instrumental for me in better understanding myself. You can have familiarity by building a routine of ‘my morning walk’ which for me has become a staple. Wake up early, get up and go for a 5-mile walk. During this time I am able to unpack my day and mentally prepare. Fill myself with nature and positivity and apply that to the rest of my day. I have historically battled with depression and have always been aware that when I am active, I always feel the most positive.
Walking is free and best of all, you can do it almost anywhere! I use Strava to map walks right from my doorstep. Or for more off the beaten track, try AllTrails if you fancy a bit more adventure. So moving on from the routine, this is where I start to EXPLORE. I was fortunate to have transport to get some hikes in The Peak District, The Lake District and The Yorkshire Dales to name a few. There is something really special about escaping the stress and hustle of day to day life. A fast-paced life where we’re racing towards the next meeting or task. Well, by contrast, being surrounded by the stillness of mountains and understanding that they were formed over millions of years has this magical calming effect on me and many others I know will know exactly what I mean. Another perspective is that I’m putting myself in a situation, even though there’s no real drama, where I am TOTALLY responsible for keeping myself safe and well, return the control to me. There’s also the element of accomplishment after conquering a mountain and being able to admire the view from the top! All of these are key markers for improved mental health. Add in challenging weather and navigational problems into both the distraction from day to day and the accomplishment points made earlier, too!
So far I’ve spoken about what it’s like as a solo walker, but trust me… get yourself a walking buddy and you will share some of the most incredible places and moments with people. Sharing these moments is one of the most wonderful places to be able to talk openly and honestly about anything. And as we know, it’s so important to talk to one another when we’re not feeling so on top of the world. I think the calmness and openness of the nature-rich settings you find yourselves in allow for people to be more comfortable about sharing their tougher topics.
I hope many of you will start to reap the benefits of the simple act of walking after reading this. Start small, and if you want to keep it small – that’s great, you’ll still feel all the better for it. But if you want to give yourself a bit more of a challenge, set yourself a goal. Perhaps it’s a distance or a certain amount of elevation gain and work gradually towards it and I promise you, you will fall in love with it the process. You will gain so much in both physical and mental health benefits. And you will learn a lot about yourself, too.