The biggest challenge a lot of people have faced over the last few months is even being able to get outside and it’s been inspiring to see families walking together around the neighbourhood, people walking laps around the garden (go Captain Tom), traipsing up and down a mountain’s worth of stairs (go Margaret Payne) or doing yoga, tai chi, dancing and singing on their balconies.
To get even more out of your walk, get as close to nature as possible17,18. That might be a local park, a nearby reserve or forest, a path along the beachfront or even the leafiest street in your neighbourhood. You don’t have to trek into the wilderness, although that of course would be even better!.
Even if you live in an urban area, you can still gain some of the incredible benefits of being in nature17,18 by tapping into a hyper awareness of your surroundings. As you walk, notice everything from the smallest objects to the sheer immensity of buildings around you.
As Thich Nhat Hahn says, "Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet", which is a wonderful way to invite a sense of wonderment into your space.
If joint or other pain is making it impossible to even go for a short walk, then it is more important than ever that you take steps to change that. Talk with your GP and make an appointment with a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist to help get you moving.
Otherwise the only thing holding you back is inertia and the only counter to that is to make a different choice.
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There are plenty of references in the links below to support the physical benefits of walking and you probably don’t need studies for most of those benefits, so what I’d really like to chat about here is a “why” you’re probably wondering about already. If 10 minutes of walking produces all these benefits, then surely 20-30 minutes of high intensity exercise would double or triple the benefits? And sure, if we’re talking about just the exercise effects of walking, then some of those (such as burning calories) could definitely be enhanced with more volume and intensity exercise.
But high intensity, high volume exercise isn’t always the most beneficial, particularly if you’re extremely fatigued, overweight and generally just burnt out. Regular exercise lowers inflammation in the longer term, but also causes acute inflammation straight after exercising, which can lead to chronic inflammation over time16, definitely not something you want if you’re already burnt out. I’m not for a minute saying that doing more exercise isn’t a good thing. I’m just suggesting that a short daily walk is a bitesize, sustainable and hugely beneficial starting point.
But there’s an even more important reason that walking outdoors is so beneficial. We’ve all felt that sense of wonder when hiking in nature - it feels like you have come alive, your thoughts are going large, your fears are dissipating and there is a sense that this is what life is really about (ok, maybe not when you’re slogging and sweating your way up yet another hill, but for sure when you stop to soak up a stunning view and wonder why you don’t do this more often). That, my friends, is Presence… brought to you by the magic of being in nature. And it is this ‘magic’ that enhances all the benefits of your short walk multifold17,18, even if you’re strolling in a local park (but less so if you’re rushing to an appointment).
- Harvard Health outlines some lesser known benefits of walking
- Article from the Anxiety and Depression Society of America discussing the benefits of even a short walk on stress and anxiety, as well as some handy tips for walking regularly
- A study from Stanford University, which found that walking can substantially boost creativity.
- Review of studies around exercise and sleep by the National Sleep Foundation
- Actual real-live evidence that walking for 15 minutes a day can curb chocolate cravings!
- Study showing that walking can reduce the expression of obesity promoting genes
- Study showing increased blood flow to the brain from walking
- Study linking walking and other physical activity with lower levels of depression and higher quality of life
- Study linking walking to improved lower back pain https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5698665/
- Study linking walking to lower risk of breast cancer
- Study looking at the effect of walking on arthritis and joint pain in the knee https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30967128/?from_term=effect+of+walking+on+arthritis&from_pos=4
- Review of studies looking at the effect of walking on cardiovascular risk
- Study showing the immediate effect of a short walk after a meal in reducing glucose spikes
- Study showing stair-walking gives a bigger energy boost than caffeine when you’re tired
- Study looking at the impact of activity on the immune system
- An article from Dr Mark Sissons discussing the complex relationship between exercise and inflammation
- A great article by Business Insider (OK, not one of my usual sources, but it is well referenced and saved me reinventing the wheel in my already too long article)
- An article from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies about how nature benefits your health