Is walking good for mental health – Part 1

In a previous article, I shared my own experience of depression and how my daily walking ritual helps me manage my mental health. I have been convinced for a long time now that walking has a profound impact on my mental health. As I child I could never sit still and just wanted to keep moving. I also walked on my tiptoes so my mother once asked the doctor why he thought I did this and his response was that my mind was further down the road than my body was. All my life I have frustrated those around me, particularly my school teachers,  with my inability to sit still. I remember doing my Duke of Edinburgh award when I was a teenager and being given the nickname ‘Duracell Bunny Jon’ because whilst hiking across the peaks in the lake district I never wanted to stop for a break. A few years back I took part in a 100km walk for charity and I felt the same when we reached a checkpoint. I did not want to stop. I preferred to keep moving. I’m happiest when I’m moving. Let me describe my feelings when walking:

  • I feel stimulated by the sites, sounds and smells of my changing environment.
  • I feel sedated, relaxed but also energised.
  • I feel free from the infodemic that often torments me.
  • I feel a connection with my fellow walkers.
  • I feel a connection with nature.
  • I feel healthy.
  • I feel good.
  • I feel happy.

However, this is just my perspective and very anecdotal. So being the sports science geek that I am I decided to do a bit of research and see if there are any published journal articles on walking and mental health. Whilst researching I stumbled upon a research paper titled ‘Walking and hiking as a way of life’. I was not surprised to find out that a lot of people share my sentiment about this free and easily accessible form of exercise.

Walking and hiking as a way of life (Roberson and Babic,2008)

 

The walkers in this study were approached whilst walking in a nature park in Croatia and asked by the interviewers if they wouldn’t mind answering a few questions about their motivations for walking. The study interviewed 122 hikers and walkers, and the findings centred around three main experiences, with mental health being a common theme:

  1. Nature and outdoors
  2. Benefits – Mental and Physical
  3. Interaction with others, and the self

The following are some of the responses from the 122 walkers and hikers that were interviewed. They are direct translations from Czech so excuse the grammar:

Nature and outdoors

“For me walking is connection with earth – that is something divine”

“Not sure why it has this impact – but there is something about the nature, the wood, peace, quiet, it is green”

“The people I meet here, there is just a different energy here”

“For me hiking is health, well-being, hiking fuels my life, forest is life for me.”

“I am here because the air is better. I love the forest; it is green in the summer. And the nature is really nice here.”

“Everything that is negative is just going out. By the walking, by the quiet. You make an effort, and you have the fresh air.”

“Here is better air, breathing is better quality, and it is good relaxation. For me it is escape from city, enjoying in nature and I never smoke when I’m here.”

“Nature relaxes me, makes me feel better, we always have some good tempo of walking. It is important for us, and I think it is the best way of relaxation. Hiking gives me better vitality, condition for life, and for living. Nothing can’t make any problem for me, everything is easier.”

Benefits – Mental and Physical

“I feel good when I am here. I can feel it when I have been here.”

“We feel good physically and psychologically, I sleep well and healthy; it is pleasure, it is chance to see my friends and be with them, for me is very important knowledge that I do something for myself.”

“It is an exercise for me. I enjoy good conversation and fresh air. I can fill up my batteries. I can throw out the boring when I am here. I just see how simple everything is when you look at nature. I look at what is around.”

“I keep walking because it makes me feel good, I fuel my battery for the rest of the next week.”

“I love to be here today with my wife in the nature (very affectionate). This helps to relieve stress. I am not in the city environment, my cell phone is off.”

“I am coming here to relax and to get in good condition. I know if I am doing this I will have better physical condition. And also I will have a better psychology.”

“I use this hiking instead of a psychiatrist. It is good for the mind and for the physical. In one way I am tired when I finish, yet full of energy. I am full of energy, it is filling me.”

“This is like a balance between the physical and the spiritual. This is psychotherapy.”

“I am here 2 – 3 times a week, and every time in the week I am here walking. I feel sick if I don’t walk or sweat.”

“For me hiking means health and conditioning. I enjoy in walking. I wasn’t visit doctor since 1991.”

“For me hiking is health, physical and physiological relaxation, joy, during hiking I forget all problems.”

Interaction with others, and the self

“I love it! I feel better the whole week when I have been hiking here. I have better health and I have a better mood

“This is a stress relief from a stressful week. And I am trying to learn my son to get with the nature.”

“This is something we can do with nature, something that promotes a peace.”

“I heal my depression here. It makes me internal pleasure and balance.”

Hiking means to me realising of stress, health, physiological and physical well being.”

“I am throwing out all this bad layers in my head and replacing it with fresh thoughts.”

“During hiking I forget all problems.”

It is clear from the walkers/hikers responses that they have discovered a real passion for walking in this particular part of the world and they believe that both their physical and mental health are all the better for it. I imagine there are some specific benefits to walking in a more natural environment such as this that are perhaps absent when walking through a built-up area such as a city. However, I know from my own personal experience that even walking through town still gives me a good feeling of well-being.

That’s all for now. I will keep digging and see what else I can find.

Stay active folks 🚶‍♀️

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