Walking for wellness

30 Apr 2019

Can walking improve your mental wellbeing? The signs all point to yes. A large-scale 2018 study concluded that the positive effects of connecting with nature last up to seven hours after you get home -- and those at greater risk of developing mental health issues benefit more than anyone else. 

The wisdom of our ancestors

Societies around the world link walking with a positive mental attitude, and have done so for thousands of years. Native Americans practise firewalking as a way to overcome self-doubt and focus on mind over matter. Buddhist monks engage in ritual walking in temples as part of a metaphorical journey towards the path of enlightenment. The Japanese have developed the art of "forest bathing", meaning to soak up the quiet atmosphere of the woods to boost creativity. 

What are the benefits?

The physical rewards of regular, brisk walking are clear to see, but the mental benefits might be even more powerful. Walking can help to reduce the stress hormone cortisol and release mood-boosting chemicals, and can also be a great way to meet new people; you'll find plenty of groups across the UK who meet regularly to walk and talk, whether it's strolling though a local park or accomplishing a challenging ascent of one of the country's most famous peaks. 

Learn to walk mindfully

Plenty of institutions recommend mindful walking to those who find traditional meditation difficult. To bring your mind and body in sync, try to let go of any swirling thoughts and instead focus on what's going on around you with sustained awareness. Walk at a natural pace, pay attention to the rhythm of your footsteps and tune in to the sights, sounds and smells that surround you. If your mind begins to wander, try counting your footsteps to stay present.

A case of wellness wanderlust? 

Walking holidays are tipped to be one of the top travel trends of 2019 -- a huge 81% of you keep active when you travel by walking or swimming. You could take a pilgrimage through Peru, travelling with a local guide to explore Inca ruins and learn about the Andean way of life, or hike an ancient route through the wild interior of Japan, travelling from hut to hut by way of fragrant cedar forests and forested mountains. This new fashion of transformative travel is all about slowing down, enjoying the journey and inspiring lasting life changes.

You can start at your own doorstep

You don't need to travel to a far-flung destination to reap the benefits of the outdoors. By committing to daily walking for a solid month, you can create a habit that's likely to stick. Don't try to change your life in one day -- start simple, like walking the dog at a set time every day, or walking to work in the mornings when the sun is shining. Even in the din of the big city, it's possible to find moments to savour.

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