The Benefits of Walking

“Walking is man’s best medicine.” Hippocrates

A quick Internet search, “the benefits of walking”, will throw up enumerable reasons to go for a walk.  Through frequent walking you can look forward to increased general fitness, decreased chance of heart disease, of a stroke or of developing diabetes.  It’s good for your bones, can help delay the onset of dementia and can even improve your chances of recovering from some cancers.  All this makes sense and the physical health benefits of walking are almost intuitive.  Doing exercise is good for you is not exactly a revelation.  However, what can be surprising is the range and even the scale of the benefits for taking even just a 30-60 minute walk each day.

In the first 5 minutes of a walk your heart rate will increase and blood flow will improve.  The muscles will warm and the joints loosen as they release synovial fluid, their natural lubricant.  By the end of the first 10 minutes your circulatory system is tuned in and you are burning upwards of 6 calories every minute.  Over the next half an hour your body will continue to burn calories, reduce fat storage, and release a number of important chemicals and hormones which, amongst other things, release energy to the muscles and give you a dose of those happy hormones, endorphins. [1]

This is where we come to the often most immediate (yet sometimes considered secondary) benefit of exercising – what is does for your mood or your mental health.  Going for a good walk improves your state of mind, can be relaxing or even meditative.  But, how often do we attribute this ‘good mood’ to the walking itself?

As well as calculating the physical effects of walking on the body many studies have shown what walking can do for your general well-being.  Those endorphins are nice to have around and a natural consequence of walking, or of being outside.  Fresh air, sunlight and an appreciation of our environment all contribute to making us feel good.

I find breathing air conditioned aeroplane air almost hangover inducing.  On the other hand filling your lungs with Highland air from the top Buachaille Etive Mor or inhaling the Hebredian breeze on a shoreline stroll is almost life-giving.  Waking up to a sunny day almost instantly makes me feel good (provided I won’t be stuck inside all day).

And as for a good view, it can do wonders.  It can produce feelings ranging from contentment to euphoria, a sense of awe and wonder, and above all a sense of being present; in that place, with that particular view, at that time.  A clarity in view and in mind.

 

Those days when you are stood a-top a Munro shrouded in cloud, the selfie you take pictures your wet hair, a cairn and a backdrop of paint-your-own-background-here grey-ness, make the days of the panoramic vistas all the more fulfilling.

On my first visit to the Skye Cuillin, as a 16 year old with a newly acquired scrambles guide, we awoke to the standard Glen Brittle mizzle.  Despite the less than inviting summer conditions we followed the guidebook route to the summit of Sgurr Dearg and the Inaccessible Pinnacle.  As we reached the ridge line, quite pleased with our route finding abilities, we came through the last wisps of cloud to arrive on a ridge bathed in sunshine.  All the “weather” was down in Glen Brittle, held in by the ridge and the corries, and to the east were blue skies and dramatic mountain ridges.

Those endorphins were dining out as we too munched our sandwiches and dried out a bit; basking in every sense of the word.  The cloud slowly rose out of the corries and crept over the ridge line.  We turned back into the damp but our moods were lighter than those clouds, more buoyant for the experience, more accepting of the wet camp and the discomfort that was so rewarded by the view.

Rainer Maria Rilke captures this sense in his poem ‘A Walk’:

“My eyes already touch the sunny hill.
going far beyond the road I have begun,
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has an inner light, even from a distance”

A sense of appreciation isn’t only found in the views.  It can be found in the soft sounds of a snow laden forest walk, the rushing water and the birdlife of a riverside saunter, the sociability of the trails on the eastern shores of Loch Lomond.  These all have ways of improving your mood and making going out for a walk so good for you.  It’s a chance to allow the senses the freedom to enjoy the environment and they will take up that chance all by themselves.

Henry David Thoreau said in is lecture ‘Walking’:
“I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least—and it is commonly more than that—sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements. You may safely say, A penny for your thoughts, or a thousand pounds. When sometimes I am reminded that the mechanics and shopkeepers stay in their shops not only all the forenoon, but all the afternoon too, sitting with crossed legs, so many of them—as if the legs were made to sit upon, and not to stand or walk upon—I think that they deserve some credit for not having all committed suicide long ago.”
Clearly walking does preserve “health and spirits”.  Even half-an-hour a day, rather than the 4 hours Thoreau prescribes, is incredibly beneficial.  Our feet and legs are our original transport.  They are made to be used.  The body and the mind respond so positively when we choose to use the movement we are meant to make.

 

[1] https://www.walkingwithattitude.com/articles/features/ever-wondered-what-happens-to-your-body-when-you-start-walking


Photo of David Battle

David Battle

David has a love for the Scottish mountains and is never more at home than when he is setting off into the Highlands with a tent in his pack. He enjoys an airy scramble and a chance to get his hands on the rock; the Cuillin being a favourite playground. When not out on the hill he can be found poring over maps planning the next adventure, or out on his bike clocking up the miles. His enthusiasm for the Scottish mountains and glens is never dampened, even by the weather!