One foot in front of the other
Updated: Oct 7
How regularly do you go for a walk outside? No matter how long or short, is striding in the outdoors part of your regular routine? There is evidence to suggest that the benefits of walking extend to the mind, not simply the body.
The physical benefits of walking are diverse and worth considering. From improving blood flow leading to a healthy heart, regulating blood sugar levels, easing joint pains by strengthening surrounding muscles, to boosting our immune systems, these are reason enough to be out walking on a regular basis.
Significantly, the positive impact on our mental state from walking is also triggered by increased blood flow, this time to the brain. As a result of this, the regulation of hormones becomes more efficient and brings a reduction in anxiety and stress levels. Studies have also shown that it can support treatment for those who are suffering from depression and alleviate symptoms of low self-esteem.
There are emerging reports that walking in nature can even elevate these results further. Seeking out spaces where nature is present, will support a reduction in blood pressure and heart rate which serves to further impact our mental health. To take it further, the act of walking will also serve to physically remove us from stressful environments, therefore giving us a break and offering a chance to press reset. So whether it is a local park in the city, or a countryside tramping track, walking in natural spaces will support us further.
Some even endorse walking as a gateway to mindfulness. Andy Puddicome writes that the habituated act of walking around on a daily basis, has the potential to refocus our attention on the here and now, to be more present in the moment when putting one foot in front of the other. When we reflect on how busy our minds are when we are moving between spaces, we realise that we are actually planning our days, remembering conversations and not simply focussing on where we are at that time. Be it the walk to the office, or along the pathway at the local park, when we are mindful of the act of walking, the surroundings we are in and engage our senses to what is around us, we slow down our racing minds, focus on the present and can allow ourselves to relax.
With international travel still looking like a distant reality, there is no better time to explore the community around you. The Covid-19 pandemic has given us the opportunity to adjust our focus closer to home and look to our own backyard for time to relax, unwind and press the reset button. And there is plenty out there to get inspired to be walking in the great outdoors. Read here about the benefits of going for a walk.
How many walks are there in your community? There may be a signposted route, or even registered footpath, or perhaps there isn't anything official at all. But our local areas are full of short walks which afford us the opportunity to be outdoors and feeling better for stretching our legs. Is there a public open space which you can access during the day that would allow a short lap, or a safe route to the dairy and back? Regularly walking close to home is a great place to start for building a routine of walking on a regular basis and feeling those benefits.
Of course, there are all of the Great Walks too, if long distance or multi-day tramping is your bag. And with the move towards longer days and warmer, fairer weather, is there a better time to consider planning a few longer walks? Or several shorter ones. Whatever you prefer.
The good news is that the internet has many great sites to help you out with the walks you can enjoy. Walking, strolling or tramping is easier now than ever with catalogues of routes from DOC, Tramping and Tramper. You can even filter out those which are too challenging or too long.
All in, where you go isn’t the important part. During Level 4 lockdown, there was one route close by, which was very well trodden by locals - down a narrow path from the road; along the bank of the river, up another path back to the road and back home. It wasn't anything long per se, but when done every day, it was clearly something of an antidote for those who could be seen enjoying the fresh air and time out of the house. What is important? The opportunity to benefit from simply putting one foot in front of the other today.