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  • Natalie Rossiter

Walking for wellbeing

How walking helps our mental health.



I'm currently walking 100 miles in October for Mind, the mental health charity, to help raise vital funds so that more people can access free support. I love walking but it's not easy getting all these miles in around busy work and social life. You can follow my progress and donate here.


I reached my half way point today - 50 miles! - so to celebrate I thought I'd share some info and tips on walking for wellbeing. Most of us know that going for a walk helps us to feel better, but why? Read on to find out!

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”

John Muir,

Physical activity.

Walking is a gentle, yet surprisingly effective form of exercise.

“Exercising influences the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin which are the feel-good neurotransmitters, so this makes us feel better and really lifts our mood,” explains Dr Spelman. Research suggests that walking in the morning is especially beneficial for an energy boost that lasts into the day. This will really help in the winter too when exposure to daylight it harder to achieve. If like me you find running sweaty and boring then just go for a brisk walk instead, it's still really good for your body and mind.



Nature connection.

When you go for a walk it's the perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness and notice what's around you. Using your senses to connect to nature is proven (as you'll have heard be mention maaaaany times!) to have a whole host of positive benefits to our wellbeing. So; listen to the wind in the trees, smell the damp earth, look at the colours of the leaves and feel the air on your face.


"Never did I think so much, exist so vividly and experience so much, never have I been so much myself as in the journeys I have taken alone and on foot." - Rousseau


Nature's medicine.

When we walk in nature - a park, woodland, by the river etc, we are exposed to something called phytoncides. These are the natural essential oils given off by trees and they are shown to improve our immune systems and boost our mood. When we're by running water we'll also be exposed to negative ions which some studies show as an effective method of reducing symptoms of depression.


"After a day’s walk, everything has twice its usual value." - G.M Trevelyan

Walk yourself happy!

There's a wealth of studies that show that walking, again especially in nature, increases our experience of positive emotions like awe, joy, calm and happy. . “[looking at trees] causes individuals to feel less selfish, and to behave in more generous and helping ways” says researcher Piff at the University of California, speaking about his research into experiences of awe in nature.

Get in the zone.

Do you have your best ideas when you're walking (i.e. when you can't write them down!)? If so then you're not alone, many people find that walking makes them think more creatively and have more ideas. It's also a great way to feel more focused and gain clarity; this is why I love providing 'walk and talk' counselling sessions - the physical motion of moving forward step by step seems to allows more options to open up in the mind and give a sense of hope and perspective.



Better sleep.

Good sleep is all about what we do in the day. Studies show that people who walk during the day get better sleep - it's a nice way to tire out the body ready for bed whilst being in an environment that's good for your mental health. It makes sense that we'd sleep better after doing something that's proved to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.


"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." - Lao Tzu

I hope this inspires you to get out and go for a walk more regularly; it really is one of the simplest and most enjoyable things we can do for our mental health. So, take the pretty route to the shops, spend your lunchbreak in the park and plan that weekend adventure in the trees!


If you'd like to try Forest Bathing (mindful walking in nature) take a look at my events here.

Want to walk solo but would like some guidance on mindful walking? Try my mindful walking guide or my free audio guides on Insight Timer.


Happy walking,


Natalie


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