Walking for wellbeing
Could stretching those legs be the answer to our wellness prayers? Our health columnist Hannah finds out…
By Hannah Bullimore
I would describe myself as a walker now, but it hasn’t always been the case.
As a child, my mid-walk tantrums were notorious. I would reach a point where I had had enough, sit down, and refuse to go a step further.
I can still remember the exhausted panic I would feel at the thought of just how many steps it would take us to get home or back to the car. I would dread the idea of walking anywhere and often found walks tedious or perhaps even torturous.
However, as an adult, I have come to love walking.
Partly, this is thanks to the trio of Labradors who have graced my life over the last 20 years. Watching a Labrador wiggle its way through woodland and along coastlines is a motivator for any animal lover. But also, I’ve found comfort in the beauty of nature and my walks have acted as a distraction from so many of life’s challenges.
Last summer, I spent most days walking solo. I was going through a lot. Walking offered me a solace that required no one else. Nothing else. Not even money. I’d simply put on my shoes, take a packed lunch and walk.
Fast forward a year and my days are no longer filled with 12 or 13-mile walks. However, I still believe in the benefits. In fact, some of the walks I went on during my lowest point I think of as healing. They made me hopeful, they made me feel accomplished and they gave me beautiful memories in a summer that was otherwise extremely painful.
But, as a wellness columnist, I wonder if walking could be a benefit to the majority of us. Is it just a me thing? Or can it have benefits for the mental and physical health of others, too?
And are there ways to upgrade your walking?
THE HEALTH BENEFITS
We all know that to be well we need to move more and eat well.
Walking is a great form of exercise because it’s so accessible. You don’t even need special shoes or sports clothes. You don’t have to be a in a pretty location. You can walk anywhere, inside or out, and add movement to your day.
My boyfriend is a great example of this. He works from home and, on a morning, he’ll wake up and walk, sometimes 2,500 steps before breakfast, just around our house. I wish I was that disciplined!
Bupa explains that the health benefits of walking are plentiful:
‘As well as helping to look after your mental health, walking also helps to look after your physical health, by helping you to:
- maintain a healthy weight
- keep your muscles and bones healthy
- increase your cardiovascular fitness
It can also reduce your risk of developing certain health conditions, including:
Any walking is good, as it gets your body moving. But the best walking for physical health involves a bit of pace – you should feel as though your heart rate is slightly elevated and become a little breathless.
RUNNING V WALKING
The reality is that running will allow you to burn more calories in an hour than walking, but there is more to good health than burning calories.
Walking is far more accessible to those who are new to fitness than running. Additionally, for anyone with musculoskeletal issues, walking might be a gentler place to start.
Plus, there are ways to level up your walking if, like me, the thought of running makes you feel a little queasy.
- Try power walking. Adding pace and changing your posture will allow you to burn more calories and improve cardio-vascular strength.
- Add an incline. Whether it’s on the treadmill or simply walking somewhere hilly, adding incline will work a greater range of muscles and add more challenge to your walk.
- Use weights. Whether carrying weights or wearing a weighted vest, this technique will increase the challenge of your walk.
Now, I’m no health expert and anyone experiencing mental health concerns should certainly seek help. However, as someone who has experienced challenges such as anxiety, I can certainly speak of my own personal experience with walking.
I’ve found that walking, whether solo or with someone, allows me the space to work through my thoughts. It also acts as a fantastic circuit breaker when I’m in a funk.
All exercise releases endorphins and can improve mental wellbeing. It just so happens that I find walking to be a highly accessible form of exercise to give me a boost when it’s needed. Even a 20-minute walk in my local area is enough to lift me from a low mood and, if I’m working from home, the break helps me stay more focused.
We’re so lucky in the North East to be surrounded by a range of beautiful walks – from city circulars to beautiful woodland and awe-inspiring coastline.
Here are three of my favourite North East walks:
South Shields to Seaburn
This beautiful 5.5-mile walk is perfect for enjoying a range of coastline. From the bustling beaches of South Shields, with its busy amusements and range of fish and chip shops, to the quieter cliff tops of Marsden Rock. This walk is flat so is suitable for a range of fitness levels and is stunning in all seasons.
The Armstrong Trail, Cragside
This 2-mile walk is a lovely introduction to the National Trust’s Cragside. Taking in woodland and open views of the countryside, it’s a great route for dog walkers and families. The house is also well worth a visit (although no pooches allowed!).
This lovely country park offers a wide range of walks, from short loops that are wheelchair accessible to longer hikes that carry you into the countryside. It’s well worth planning a visit to explore the countryside, and The Land of Oak & Iron offers a very nice range of cakes too.
Whether you’re an avid walker or have never wandered further than your corner shop, why not try walking for the joy of seeing where you end up this summer.
It could well be your new favourite wellness hobby…