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Walking back to happiness

How come so many of us are obsessed with our physical fitness, rather than our mental well-being?


The health benefits of walking are well-evidenced and widely accepted. The NHS Choices website promotes walking as part of its public health campaign. ‘Walking is simple, free and one of the easiest ways to get more active, lose weight and become healthier. It's underrated as a form of exercise but walking is ideal for people of all ages and fitness levels who want to be more active. Regular walking has been shown to reduce the risk of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, stroke and some cancers.’

What is less widely evidenced is walking’s ability to support our mental well-being. Mental health remains too much of a taboo subject in Britain with people more willing to discuss embarrassing physical problems than any form of depression. Channel 4’s show Embarrassing Bodies has people queuing up to bare all on live TV, but is seems unlikely people would be as upfront about their mental vulnerabilities.Walking for Health

And yet walking has as many mood-enhancing properties as it does fitness enhancing properties. The NHS Choices website confirms. ‘In recent years, studies have shown that regular physical activity also has benefits for our mental health. Exercise can help people with depression and prevent them becoming depressed in the first place.’

Walking, like all exercise, leads to the release of the body’s natural happy drugs – endorphins. It’s a good start, but there are other brain chemicals that are affected differently depending on the type of exercise we do. One example of this can be found in our levels of serotonin, the chemical which can lift our mood and increase levels of satisfaction. Low to moderate intensity types of exercise (like walking that relies more on endurance than power), tend to elevate serotonin levels to a greater extent than high intensity types. The rise in serotonin that is experienced with moderate intensity exercise seems to be similar in nature to the rise in serotonin that is experienced when one is surrounded by good friends and family.

There is more compelling evidence about ‘happy walkers’ from a 2007 Japanese study which looked at the links between walking and the stress hormone, cortisol.  12 subjects were recruited for the study and had physiological measures of stress taken six times during the day. Once in the morning on waking, before and after a 15 minute walk either in the woods or the city, before and after watching scenery of the woods or the city on a television, and once in the evening before bed. The researchers showed a significant lowering of cortisol levels from walking in the woods versus walking in the city despite an equal amount of time spent walking in each setting. While walking anywhere can act to balance the nervous system and make us feel more relaxed, walking in a nature setting like the woods seems to have an even greater impact.

So instead of just focussing on fitness, take some time to support your mental well-being. Enjoy a more leisurely walk in a green environment and let the stress melt away and a feeling of satisfaction take its place.


iFootpath features in Breeze Magazine
Let the walking games begin

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Sunday, 18 March 2018
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The length of our walking guides is given in miles and rounded to the nearest full mile (whole number) for simplicity. For short walks (of less than 2 miles) or walks that have a length that ends in .5, a more accurate walk length may be given in the first section of the walk introduction. For example, the Length in the header may be listed as 6 miles, and the introduction may confirm that the exact length of the walk is 5.5 miles. The walk length is calculated from the GPS file that was created by the walk author GPS tracking the walk whilst walking, using the iFootpath App GPS Tracker, meaning it is very accurate. Our bespoke tracker is particularly detailed and plots a walkers position about every 10 seconds. The tracker is calibrated to match two other reputable map and walking sources, Ordnance Survey and Nike. As with all standardised walk and map lengths, the distance does not take account of hills and slopes, just the distance you would measure using a piece of string on a flat map version of the terrain, so hilly walks will feel longer than stated. If you track the route using another GPS App or Tracker App or Fitness Device, you can expect the distance you record to be different due to different calibrations. This is particularly true of those Apps and devices that count your motion and steps – these can only guess the distance you have travelled with each step and so are much less accurate.

Grade (Boots)

The grade of a walk is an indicator of how difficult the terrain is that you will encounter along the way. This does not take into account the walk length but does suggest how challenging the walk will be. It takes into account things like hills, path surfaces and obstacles (like stiles, gates, steps and rock scrambles). An easy walk, graded as 1 (and shown as 1 Boot) indicates a walk that is essentially flat, has no sharp hills to climb, has no stiles, is easy to navigate (probably along a well-worn path) and is suitable for most levels of fitness. A difficult walk, graded as 5 (and represented by 5 Boots) indicates a walk that is strenuous and involves steep ascents and/or descents. It may be technically challenging involving difficult terrain or obstacles that require scrambling with your hands. Please note that the grading for walks is subjective and open to interpretation and should only be used as a guide when selecting a walk.

NOTE: Do be aware that the level of stamina required for any walk will vary depending on both the walk length and the difficulty grade - you should only walk within your limits.

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