Nature is fuel for the soul. One of the best habits I adopted a couple of years ago was getting out for my ‘daily steps’ in the fresh air. If I felt sluggish, tired, stressed or nervous, one of the things I would do that would make me feel instantly better was simply going for a walk. As it became the only consistent thing that we were allowed to do during the pandemic, it quickly became pivotal to looking after my mental and physical health. I am extremely lucky that I live in a beautiful, rural area free from traffic and excessive pollution to go exploring in. But even if you live in a city where your access to ‘green’ is limited, it is the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other that is important.
Now I grant you that sometimes the thought of just ‘going for a walk’ can seem boring, and even the act of walking can become boring in itself. Especially if you walk the same route again and again with little to no variation. To prevent boredom setting in too early, try changing up your route, the time of day you walk or what you do whilst walking. I alternated between walking listening to the sounds around me, to listening to music and podcasts, to walking with friends and family. In case you needed anymore convincing as to why walking is so great for you, here are five reasons (out of many others) why.
1. Stress Reduction and Increased Serotonin
Getting out for some fresh air for even 10/15 minutes is scientifically proven to greatly decrease your stress levels. The science is pretty simply really: with each breath you take, your lungs draw in more oxygen which circulates to your brain and therefore to the rest of your body, which makes you feel more energised and awake. All it takes is a few breaths of fresh air and you can noticeably feel calmer, sharper and more relaxed. This newfound happiness is your body releasing more serotonin – our ‘happy hormone’ that stabilises our mood and feeling of well-being.
2. Improved concentration
With the increased oxygen flowing around your body, you return to your desk for your afternoon study and you notice you feel ready to focus again – that will be the benefits of the lunchtime walk that you took the time to carve out of your busy day. As well as the fresh air, the movement and exercise from walking may have released endorphins, which help you to feel good.
3. Increased vitamin D
In the depths of winter, or during the endless grey we experience here in January and February in the UK, you might not see much sun. But when the sun is shining, seize the moment and get outside for some vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential as it helps us to absorb calcium and phosphate from our food, keeping our bones, teeth and muscles nice and strong. The best time to head out for a walk to increase vitamin D is midday, as it is when the sun is at its highest and strongest.
4. Improved sleep
Sunlight and daily movement plays a big role in regulating our circadian rhythm – our body’s internal clock which helps us to know when it is time to be alert and when it is time to rest. Heading outside for some fresh air and exercise helps our bodies calibrate a healthy circadian cycle and establish a healthy sleeping pattern. After your body has burnt calories during and after your walk you are more likely to feel sleepier later in the day and therefore get a well-deserved deep sleep.
5. Improved immune system
The increased oxygen helps to fuel our bodies to become stronger and more efficient. Depending on where you walk, the range of substances that plants emit can have beneficial effects for your immune system. For example, some plants emit phytoncides, which have antibacterial properties used by the plants to fight off disease. When you breathe these in, your body increases its number of white blood cells, boosting your immune defence. Sunlight also boosts our immune system by energising T-cells, which helps our body fight against infection.