Taking steps to good health

From beating the blues to boosting your brain power, walking is a great all-round form of exercise

If gym workouts or organised sports fill you with dread, why not consider a form of exercise that is simple, free and has proven health benefits? Walking has been shown to help reduce stress and anxiety, whilst improving sleep and overall wellbeing. In fact, according to Dr Nick Baylis, FRSA, consultant psychologist at Cambridge University, walking can benefit our lives in ways we might not have considered. Here, Dr Baylis has teamed up with HF Holidays to explain why we should all get walking this autumn.

It can dispel the blues

Many of us start to feel a bit gloomy during the autumn and winter, but getting outside for a brisk walk can really help to dispel the blues. “A well-organised walking trip is a wonderfully reliable path to the all-round wellbeing of the mind,” says Dr Baylis. “As the Norwegians say: ‘There’s no such thing as the wrong weather, just the wrong clothing’. My advice would be: don’t just be a fair-weather friend! Pull on some warm, breathable waterproofs this coming autumn and winter and take to the footpaths of the UK, Europe or even the furthest parts of the world that you could think of, for some real-life adventuring.”

It keeps your brain active

Walking can help improve your memory and brain function. When you walk, your heart rate increases, pumping more oxygen to the brain. This then releases hormones that nourish the growth of brain cells and facilitates information processing. “The restorative effects of walking outward-bound come from the accumulated benefits of nature in the open-air, the purposeful nature of exercise, and the companionship in a shared challenge,” says Dr Baylis.

“Better still, with a well-organised walking tour for example, you’re learning as you go, observing history and wildlife, agriculture, and human habitations, all at close quarters. Learning and immersing yourself in such a landscape will no doubt keep your brain active and your mind healthy.”

It can help you to be more mindful

Dr Baylis believes that we should be moving away from our digital and mobile phone dependency, and this can be accomplished through practising mindfulness when we go for a walk.

Put simply, mindfulness is all about bringing your attention to the present moment rather than focusing on the past or the future. So, next time you go for a walk, be sure to leave your phone at home and focus on the experience itself. “I would definitely recommend switching off gadgets and gizmos so you can engage 100 per cent with the walk itself,” says Dr Baylis. “Even a camera can get in the way of you truly savouring the experience if you have to constantly fiddle with it. Rather than seeing it from behind the lens, take a note book to record your thoughts and feelings, and to collect leaves, pebbles, and the objects that catch your eye along the way. Such undivided engagement can no doubt bring your senses to life and give you the most out of your walk.”

It can help with motivation

If you are someone who struggles with keeping to a fitness routine, walking can help you overcome this. In fact, experts believe that walking has the highest compliance rate of any exercise plan. People who begin a walking routine tend to stick with it as they can start seeing the results of their efforts fairly quickly. Being able to stick to a routine like this will boost your confidence and help you focus on setting and achieving bigger goals in the future. “If you are a novice walker, it’s best to start with a shorter and easier walk that allows you to soak up the scenic paths at your own pace,” says Dr Baylis. “You should also try and stay fully hydrated, and ensure that you are dressed right for the walk. Wearing the right shoes, clothes and accessories go a long way in not only making you feel comfortable but also keeping you safe during your walking adventure.

Ultimately, you shouldn’t let yourself use your ‘unfamiliarity’ with walking tours, or your lack of fitness, as an excuse not to do it. You also shouldn’t wait to be in the right mood or state of mind to get the ball rolling. It is the walking itself that will positively transform your mind, body and soul. Therefore, you should invest in making it happen as soon as possible.”

It can support your health

Walking can literally be a life saver – in both the physical and emotional sense. According to the NHS report, Walking Works, if everyone in England were sufficiently active, nearly 37,000 deaths a year could be prevented. Furthermore, the British Heart Foundation states that brisk walking can help to keep your heart strong by strengthening your cardiovascular fitness and reducing your risk of developing heart disease and high blood pressure in the long-term.

“As a doctor of wellbeing for the past 20 years I always tell people that there’s no better remedy I’d gladly recommend than gathering up a friend or two and taking a well-organised week or more of walking through some unexplored and beautiful terrains,” says Dr Baylis. “Such shared adventure could be transformative for the body, mind and soul, so it really is the ideal prescription for a healthier, happier life.”

Next steps

HF Holidays offers guided and self-guided walking holidays in the UK and around the world. From beginners on their first walk to experts tackling the more challenging trails, there is something for everyone. For more information visit www.hfholidays.co.uk

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