I took a break in my 52 Ways to Wellbeing, for various reasons. You could say I was practising what I preached in #40 (Stop perfectionism) and #34 (Slow down). You could say I just didn’t feel like it so I didn’t do it, as I was focusing on things I had to do. You could say it really doesn’t matter.
But what is surprising is that it has taken till #50 before I reached one of the really important ways to wellbeing: walking.
Going for a walk is one of the best and simplest ways to stay well and to replenish the well of health that will tide you through tough times.
Here’s why and how it helps:
- It’s physical exercise and there is endless research to show physical the benefits of that. Getting your heart pumping more blood round your body helps brain and body and increases metabolism. It helps joints*, uses large and core muscles, lowers blood pressure. (Of course, too much walking can be wrong for some joint conditions but I should point out that when I got a treadmill for my office, my long-term knee arthritis, which had recently put me on a waiting list for replacement surgery and for which I had already had surgery three times, stopped. I’ve had no symptoms since, and now I run three times a week, too.)
- Exercise helps mentally, too – psychologically in the sense that you know you’re doing something good and physiologically because it releases endorphins, the brain’s “happy chemicals”.
- If you can walk in a green space – woods, fields, park – or other open, natural space such as the seaside or any big natural space, that helps you mentally, too – again, lots of research supports the value of engaging with or even just being able to see nature. Here is a report of a recent large study. And I wrote about it in #33 here. And this article brings together some research into the poor mental health of people who are least surrounded by green space.
- It improves creativity, freeing your mind to generate ideas. Ask almost any writer or person whose livelihood depends on ideas whether they’re more likely to get inspiration sitting at their desk or out for a walk and you’ll get a sense of the universality of this.
- It allows you to work through a problem. Walking uses only a small amount of brain bandwidth so there is plenty left for thinking. Now, this could be a negative if you don’t want to think about your problem – in which case you could be better doing something that occupies much more brain bandwidth – but if you need to work something out then going for a walk can help enormously.
- It gives you a dose of sunlight, even on a cloudy day. See The Why and How of Sunlight at #22 here.
- Believe in the benefits. “Confirmation bias” means that we tend to notice more what we expect to notice. So, going for a walk will give you the above benefits, even if you don’t know that they will. But knowing that they will give you these benefits increases your likelihood of noticing the benefits and, since noticing is half the battle when it comes to feelings and state of mind, the effect is clear.
- Acknowledge the pleasures and positive feelings. Notice and appreciate the breeze on your face, sun on your skin, sand under your feet, wheeling birds, stunning view, tiny flowers, horses in the field, smell of honeysuckle, fruits on the hedgerows, the work that someone has put into the municipal flower beds, the frost or snow or rain or whatever. Notice it and take time to appreciate it.
Walk every day. If it’s a functional walk to the bus-stop, letter-box or corner shop, make it longer: take a different route to build option and agency into the task. Feeling wound-up? Walk it off. Had a tough week? Plan a long walk at the weekend, with a friend or on your own; plan a picnic and a destination. Walk slowly or fast, make it long or short, rain or shine: just walk.
For all the earlier Ways to Wellbeing, put “52 Ways” in the search box at the top of this page.