The benefits of walking may appear small. However, in the long term, they can enhance a healthy lifestyle and provide you with a happier life.
As it’s National Walking Month this (and each) May, we thought we’d share the different ways that you can enjoy a walk. From immersing yourself in nature, long-distance walks within groups, and short brisk walks which can be added to your routine, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the activity and make it so good for our health.
Here are Free Spirit’s top tips for a rewarding walk:
- Pick up some strong walking boots or supportive footwear.
- Take waterproofs and a bottle of water to stay hydrated.
- Go walking with a friend or your furry four-legged friend!
Walking a dog is good for your health because watching him/her wagging their tail and having a good time will unconsciously make you feel happy too. However, what other unconscious health benefits can we reap, from just putting one foot in front of the other, while walking with or without a dog?
Why Walking in Nature is Good for You
When walking among nature, you’re giving yourself the opportunity to practice mindfulness. Walk through the trees and you’ll hear a bird song. Lookout in the distance and you’ll begin to appreciate the scenery and wildlife around you.
‘Forest bathing’ is also a way we can disconnect from the digital world and slow down. Through immersing ourselves in nature, forest bathing can be the antidote to the challenges of modern-day living. It is an activity that can be easily included in a walk through a forest and has many benefits.
Although we’re aware that being outside can enhance our mood forest bathing (or ‘Shinrin-Yoku’ in Japanese), involves being quiet and still under the trees. You can walk through the woods, around the park, or even a tree-lined street, to experience forest bathing. The choice is yours! Simply use your senses and tune into the environment around you…
Find a park, wood, or a quiet street and walk through the grass. As you lie upon the grass or gaze across the sky, listen to the rustling of leaves, insects, or other sounds in the distance. Feel the texture of tree trunks and observe different shadows, through branches in the sunlight. When we notice new physical and emotional sensations, we remember we’re part of nature – not detached from it.
Breathe in the aroma of honeysuckle, lavender, or fresh-cut grass. We sometimes filter out our senses, so you may be surprised how this experience can make things more prominent. Taste woodland fruit (blackberry season will be here sooner than you think). Allowing yourself to be curious will lead you to explore and play in nature – you may even choose to go walking barefoot!
The health benefits of walking in nature include:
- A reduction of psychological stress hormones and depression symptoms
- An increase in energy
- A reduction in blood pressure
- Your immune system will soon be enhanced
Overall, pausing within a natural setting during a walk helps us switch off our nervous system from fight-or-flight to rest-and-digest mode. Doing this enables us to relax and respond to our senses. Soaking up a forest atmosphere and its calming effects can also reawaken positive thoughts, associations, and memories, which is another way to enhance our mental health…
The Benefits of Walking for Your Mental Health
Walking is not just the solution to getting active. It makes us happy.
- When we become active by walking regularly, we can enhance our mental well-being and reduce depression by 30%.
- Walking enhances our mood because it reduces stress, anxiety, and fatigue.
- It can improve the quality of our sleep and sleep patterns.
- Walking can give our confidence, self-perception, and self-esteem a boost because when we notice the physical improvements of walking, we can build or rekindle a positive relationship with ourselves.
8 Top Health Benefits of Long Walks
Long-distance walking is a gentle form of exercise that you can do by walking around your local park or along a walking trail. You can go at whatever pace suits you. Long walks can also keep us healthy in different ways.
- Walking is one way to recover from an injury because it strengthens joints and muscles and eases tension.
- If you make it part of your weekly routine, walking for long periods of time will enhance your health in the short term and improve your health overall. So keep it up!
- Long-distance walks can raise your mood by reducing stress and anxiety. When we walk, endorphins are released that trigger positive feelings and thoughts.
- Taking time out to walk a long distance can increase productivity when you need to complete a task later on.
- Long-distance walks help to keep you sharp and alert by avoiding cognitive decline and illnesses such as dementia.
- It’s a way to socialise and meet new people. You can do so by visiting the Long Distance Walkers Association for UK walking events to attend throughout the year.
- During a long-distance walking holiday, you can help support rural economies by stopping at locally-owned cafes, shops, and hotels. This is also one way to experience a new location by living like a local.
- The benefits of long-distance walks can also be met when playing golf because walking two and a half hours a week and more can reduce the risk of having a heart attack by 30-40%.
Long Walk Inspiration
The weather may be changeable in the UK, so you may be unfortunate to catch the odd shower. However, remember that rainy days walks are just as healthy. Remember to plan ahead and wear some proper wet weather gear!
Although, if you fancy a quicker jaunt, incorporate a shorter walk into your week instead.
The Benefits of Short, Brisk Walking Every Day
The benefits of walking every day can be achieved by taking a short brisk walk for around 30 minutes.
8 benefits of walking 30 minutes every day:
- If you’re only able to go for a short, brisk walk every day, it will set you on the right track to building up your stamina.
- If you begin by heading down the park daily, this form of light exercise will help you to stay mobile in the long term.
- You can reduce the likelihood of developing heart disease and cancers in your future life, which will help you live longer.
- You can prevent dementia just by walking for 20 minutes a day because when endorphins are released while we walk, our blood can flow more freely and fluidly through the brain. In response, we can improve our memory.
- If you keep to a daily walking routine of 30 minutes of brisk walking you can help reduce your cholesterol and blood pressure. You could even take three short 10 minute walks morning, noon, and before bed, which would be just as beneficial.
- Just a few days of brisk walking can help to burn excess fat, as well as prevent an increase in belly fat because in a half-hour walk you can burn up to 200 calories.
- Walking frequently can help prevent heart disease from developing.
- Walking briskly for 25 minutes in green, natural areas can reduce dampen depression and make you feel happier.
Tips for walking briskly
- Not sure what a brisk walk is? Try and aim for a pace that has you breathing a little more heavily than usual, but not too much.
- When walking briskly, try to regularly reach 150 minutes a week, to be on the right track to reap all the benefits.
- If you are thinking about speed walking walk at a faster pace, around three mph or more.
When will I see the benefits of walking?
It won’t be long until you see the benefits of walking after adding it to your routine. If that’s a short, long, or brisk walk to pick up your morning paper. Either way, after returning from your first walk your mood is likely to be improved.
A week later, your muscles should feel more toned because you’ll have been using more body fat as energy to remain active. After a couple of weeks, you should have lost four-five pounds and your body should be more proportioned than before.
Within a month, it’s also possible to lose a dress size because your muscles are more defined, pounds have been lost and your energy levels have been improved. Plus, all health measurements should have lowered too, such as a reduction in blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose, and more!
Whenever you choose to go for a walk, taking the time to blow the cobwebs away will always provide instant benefits. In an extensive Walking Works Report (produced by Ramblers and Macmillan Cancer Support), walking can even save your life! It illustrates how walking is the solution to getting the UK active and shares how walking for our health can change our life, by beating physical inactivity, reducing illnesses, and early death.
You may have questioned: Is walking better than running?
There is no need to run a marathon each year to reap the benefits of having an active lifestyle. Just walking frequently can add up to seven years to your life. For instance, less than 11 minutes of walking daily, can add around two years to your lifespan.
Walking and running provide the same benefits and are excellent forms of cardiovascular exercise if you can get into the habit of walking 150 minutes each week. Although, if your goal is to lose weight then running is a better choice to see quick results. Either way, consult your doctor if you are new to exercise and want to get into better shape.
We hope we’ve shared some interesting insights about how walking can enhance your health and have inspired you to start walking regularly. Whenever and wherever you wish to walk, the great thing is that when you’re active, you can enhance both your physical and mental health.
However, if you want to challenge yourself to walk further than usual in May, why not walk 100 miles in aid of Mind? A charity that provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem.