At the moment many of us are discovering what Scientists have known for a while, that placing one foot in front of the other outdoors each day leads to some seriously impressive mental and physical benefits.
The Physical Benefits of Walking
There are many reasons to walk for exercise, walking improves fitness, cardiac health, alleviates depression and fatigue, improves mood, creates less stress on joints and reduces pain, can prevent weight gain, reduce risk for cancer and chronic disease, improve endurance, circulation, and posture, and the list goes on…
When comparing the results of the most recent Runners and Walkers Studies, researchers found that the energy used for moderate-intensity walking and vigorous-intensity running resulted in similar reductions in risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease over a six year period.
This means when it comes to some pretty prominent markers of our health, walking at a moderate intensity can get the job done just as well as running, as long as you’re expending the same amount of energy. Great news for those of us that dread going on a jog.
Many studies have supported this notion, finding that a daily walk can reduce the risk of stroke in both men and women, reduce the days spent in a hospital each year and can even lower your risk of death by up to 39 percent (when compared with no leisure-time physical activity).
A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that those who adhered to a walking program showed significant improvements in blood pressure, slowing of resting heart rate, reduction of body fat and body weight, reduced cholesterol, improved depression scores with better quality of life and increased measures of endurance.
The Mental Benefits of Walking
While the physical benefits are notable, the mental boost that can be gleaned from adding a walk to your daily routine may be more immediate.
One Stanford University study found that walking increased creative output by an average of 60 percent. Researchers labelled this type of creativity “divergent thinking,” which they define as a thought process used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions. According to the study, “walking opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity.”
Psychologists found that a 10-minute walk may be just as good as a 45-minute workout when it comes to relieving the symptoms of anxiety.
Which makes sense, since science shows that engaging in activities that allow our minds to wander promotes a mental state conducive to innovative ideas and “ah-ha!” moments.
But it’s not only your creativity that will benefit from the mental lift. The act of walking is also a proven mood booster. One study found that just 12 minutes of walking resulted in an increase in joviality, vigor, attentiveness and self-confidence versus the same time spent sitting.
Even better in NATURE
Walking in nature, specifically, is found to reduce ruminating over negative experiences, which increases activity in the brain associated with negative emotions and raises risk of depression.
Researchers in Japan also found that a walk in nature changes blood flow in the brain to a state of relaxation, increasing the number of natural killer cells the body produces to battle infection.
So how does it work? Our brain gently registers things like the wind in leaves and the sound of the waves to revitalise our fatigued mind. Phytoncides, the olfactory-provoking chemicals that trees naturally secrete, can also reduce stress hormones. They can be cancer-protective: so the more walks in woodland could lower the rates of lung, breast, uterine, prostate, kidney and colon cancers.
Walking has also been shown to improve memory and prevent the deterioration of brain tissue as we age. Plus, psychologists studying how exercise relieves anxiety and depression also suggest that a 10-minute walk may be just as good as a 45-minute workout when it comes to relieving the symptoms of anxiety and boosting mood.
Motivation to keep going
Not all of us find it easy to stay motivated to go out for a walk on our own. Some people enjoy the sociable aspect of being part of a walking group. It’s a great way to meet like minded people whilst getting active. Joining a group can also keep you motivated as you will not want to miss out on the fun or meeting up with new friends you’ve made. It may also help you get to know your area.
When the restrictions are lifted, why not join or look to set up your own local group - Ramblers have the 'Walking for health' programme which can provide training and insurance to help individuals and organisations run health walks.