16th February, 2017
Here at The Carter Company, we consider walking one of life’s greatest wonders, especially when wandering in a beautiful setting. Adventuring on foot is the ultimate means of slow travel, a chance to fully engage with your surroundings, both natural and historic, and allow your brain as well as your body to roam free. But don’t just take our word for it: scientists are frequently investigating the positive impact of perambulating on our physical and mental health. Below, we’ve chosen a few of our favourite facts about the benefits of a brisk walk – and if you’re looking to book a holiday to enjoy them, we highly recommend our Ceredigion coast walking tour, following the spectacular and varied coastline of Cardigan Bay on the west coast of Wales.
1. Walking aids concentration
Our brains get just as tired as the rest of our bodies, if not more so. The ever-increasing pace of modern life can be over-stimulating – indeed, average concentration spans are lower than they’ve ever been – but the good news is: walking can help fix this. A study in Edinburgh used lightweight brain-scanning devices to monitor the brain function of 12 participants as they walked around the city. Those instructed to wander through busy, built-up sections quickly grew frustrated and antsy, while those pottering in parks and green spaces witnessed a calming, meditative effect. This in turn led to an unconscious surge in the power of concentration, Jenny Roe, the professor behind the study told The New York Times. "It’s called involuntary attention in psychology,” she explained. “[Natural settings] hold our attention while at the same time allowing scope for reflection."
2. Walking enhances creativity
Writers and philosophers have long extolled the virtues of walking as a means of sparking ideas. “The moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow,” wrote Henry Thoreau. While Michel de Certeau noted that “writing is one way of making the world our own, and walking is another.” Dr Sowden of the School of Psychology at the University of Surrey agrees, explaining in a National Trust blog post that not only does walking improve our attention span, memory and recovery from mental fatigue but it also allows us to shift between modes of thought and offers fuel for creativity. “Walking exposes us to the constant flux of a changing environment providing us with an endless array of new and unique experiences,” he writes, “which combined with our past memories may, through serendipity alone, provoke new associations and give birth to new ideas.”
3. Walking is just as good for you as running
Given that running really gets your heart racing, while the effects of walking feel less noticeable, people often (wrongly) assume that running is the more beneficial form of exercise. However researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory looked at long-term studies of runners and walkers, and rather remarkably discovered that, when covering the same distance, the heart health benefits for both sets of participants were almost exactly the same. Both running and walking led to the reduction of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, as well as the risk of diabetes and coronary heart disease, the only difference being that walking takes a little longer. (All the better to enjoy the journey, we say!)
4. Walking can help alleviate stress and depression
The endorphins produced during a walk are known to improve your mood and reduce stress and anxiety. If you can surround yourself by nature while walking, all the better! Interaction with the natural world – from national parks to coastal paths – is scientifically proven to have a positive effect on mental health and stress management, for many of the reasons detailed above. The University of Stirling conducted a study using 341 patients which found that a brisk walk was “an effective intervention for depression”. It is also a form of exercise that can be done socially, unlike other more rigorous sports, and is a great way to let off steam with your friends.
5. Walking makes you live longer
Everything points to the fact that the more you walk, particularly in natural settings, the better your mind and body feel. It reduces the impact of all kinds of bodily ailments, from alzheimer's to arthritis, it helps weight management, boosts our immune systems and more. But what about the long term effects on your health? Well scientists say that making sure you take time to walk for a distance of 20 to 25 miles each week can extend your life by up to two years. If that doesn’t get you out of the house and off on a walking holiday, nothing will!