Walk it Off!

When I wrote this my feet were hurting. Quite a lot.

Peter and I had just completed an 18 mile walk. It was meant to be 12 miles, but we took a short cut, which turned out to be quite a long cut. Never mind. The weather was lovely, the countryside was having a final “hurrah!” before it settles down for winter, we saw loads of butterflies and we managed to get back before dark. It could have been worse; and it’s amazing just how medicinally effective a large glass of red can be.

One of the great pleasures of this oddest of years has been seeing nature flourish during the lockdown period. During our daily lockdown walks across the fields where we live we watched the spring arrive during March and April. We heard larks, and as well as farm animals we saw hares, deer, caterpillars and butterflies in larger numbers than ever before. Our daily walk became far more than just fresh air and exercise. It was a treasure trove for the senses. For instance, it was so exciting to come across things like the jet black, spikey caterpillar at the top of a clump of nettles, that I later discovered become the Peacock butterfly.

Mindfulness

In stressful and uncertain times like those we’re going through we need coping mechanisms and we need to maintain good health. Walking with the butterflies was pure pleasure and it contributed to our well-being.

Putting our boots on and heading outside is probably one of the best and simplest things we humans can do for our physical health and mental wellbeing. This isn’t a vague, generalised tree-hugging philosophy. There are a number of quite clear, separate benefits to being out in nature, all backed up by significant scientific research. You can adopt this simple mechanism for well-being and add it to the arsenal of tools available if you’re discussing coping strategies with team members who are struggling with anxiety and depression.

Walking through fields and woods and by country rivers could improve short-term memory. Several studies show that walking in nature promotes improvements in memory that other walks don't.

It improves the quality of thinking. In one study, researchers worked to deplete participants' ability to focus. Then some people took a walk in the country, others took a walk in the city, and the rest just relaxed. When everyone returned, the nature group scored the best on a proofreading task.

Being amongst trees might boost the immune system. Research shows that a wide variety of diseases are less prevalent among people who live close to green space. Other studies have made a direct link between time spent in forests and other measures of overall health. The biggest improvements were related to reduced risk of death from cancer, lung disease, and kidney disease.

Spending time outside also lowers blood pressure. In Japan, a study of 280 participants found that along with decreasing stress hormone concentrations by more than 15%, a walk in the forest lowered participants' average pulse by almost 4% and blood pressure by just over 2%.

Being outdoors has a demonstrated other de-stressing effects, too. Researchers have found a decrease in both the heart rates and levels of cortisol of participants who spent time in the forest compared to those in the city.

Anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues may all be eased by some time in nature, especially when that's combined with exercise. One study found that walks in the woods were associated with decreased levels of anxiety and bad moods. I can vouch for this one myself. We were just starting back from the furthest point of our 18 miler when my husband announced he had lost the house key (and I didn’t have one with me). I demonstrated complete calm and rose splendidly above the entirely natural wish to give him a swift metaphorical kick on the ankle. Instead I grit my teeth and called the neighbour who holds a key, hoping that she’d be around when we got back.

And enjoying the outdoors helps eliminate tiredness. You know that feeling when your brain just seems overloaded? One study found that people's mental energy bounced back even when they just looked at pictures of nature. Pictures of city scenes did not have the same effect.

If you were told: “We have this amazing strategy for dealing with anxiety and depression, which has no side effects and costs nothing!” why would you not try it?

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DISCLAIMER

Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this blog, nothing herein should be construed as giving advice and no responsibility will be taken for inaccuracies or errors.

Copyright © 2020 all rights reserved. You may copy or distribute this blog as long as this copyright notice and full information about contacting the author are attached. The author is Kate Russell of Russell HR Consulting Ltd.