Stepping Towards Mental Wellness: The Power of Walking for Mental Health

As Mental Health Awareness Week is here (13th - 19th May), it’s a timely reminder of the importance of prioritising our mental well-being. While there are various ways to nurture our mental health, one simple yet incredibly effective practice often overlooked is walking. Whether it’s a leisurely stroll during lunch break a brisk walk as part of your commute or a hike on weekends, incorporating walking into our routine can offer a multitude of benefits for our mental well-being.

As I-COM's Mental Health First Aider, I am very much aware that in today’s fast-paced world, stress and anxiety have become all too common - both in the workplace and beyond. However, one solution might be right under our noses – or rather, beneath our feet. Walking has been shown to have profound effects on mental health, offering a natural and accessible way to alleviate stress, improve mood, and boost overall mental well-being.

Firstly, let’s consider the workplace. Many of us spend the majority of our day sitting at desks, which can take a toll on both our physical and mental health. Taking a short walk during lunch breaks can work wonders. Not only does it provide an opportunity to get some much-needed fresh air and sunlight, but it also helps clear the mind and enhance productivity for the rest of the day. Encouraging workplace walking groups or organising walking meetings can foster a supportive environment while promoting physical activity and mental wellness among colleagues.

"I enjoy walking at lunch (when I give myself the time!) whether it is alone or with friends from work, it is just nice to get out of the office, and chat about something different. I know I should definitely do it more often, as I always come back with a clearer head! I also love the fact that the evenings are lighter now, which means my daughter (5) and I head off for a quick walk in the park behind our house too - we get to see the nature along the canal and ultimately we always end up at the slide! Breaking away from technology for a bit feels good."

Jane Cragg - Project Manager

Beyond the confines of the office, incorporating regular walks into our evenings and weekends can have transformative effects on mental health. Whether alone or with family, friends and colleagues, walking offers a chance to disconnect from screens, reconnect with nature, and engage in mindful reflection. The rhythmic motion of walking can serve as a form of meditation, allowing us to process thoughts and emotions while enjoying the therapeutic benefits of movement.

"I love an evening walk after I've had my tea (yes, we ruffians do call it tea and not dinner!). I feel like it helps clear my mind, makes me feel better after I've eaten and gives me a sense of purpose. Walking gets me active without putting too much strain on my body and is much more manageable for me than more intense sports. After 25 knee dislocations, it's great to have something that doesn't put too much pressure on me but gets me out of the house and exercising."

Chloe Richards - Content and Email Marketing Executive

While a stroll through the city is great, walking in nature, in particular, has been associated with reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety. Studies have shown that spending time outdoors among greenery and natural landscapes can lower cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and increase feelings of happiness and well-being. So, next time you have the opportunity, why not trade the treadmill for a trail and experience the rejuvenating effects of nature on your mental health?

"I find walking to be my go-to when I need to clear my head and get a change of scenery, not only does it provide exercise, allow you to get some much-needed fresh air, and soak up some vitamin D but it's also a great way to zone out and listen to music or a podcast - time can fly when you're lost in the rhythm of your footsteps. It doesn't always have to be solitary, I often meet friends and grab a coffee for a walk around the city aimlessly finding new restaurants or bars I want to try out. Going on a walk also doesn't always have to be a trek or challenging sometimes it can be as easy as trying a different route to the shops or just wanting to clear your head. "

Harrison Spencer - Client Services Manager

Not everyone prefers a leisurely pace. Many of my friends also feel the mental benefits after a good run too. Running, with its intense cardiovascular exertion, triggers the release of endorphins, often referred to as the "runner's high," which promotes a sense of well-being and reduces pain perception.

"I'm more of a runner than a walker but I think the benefits in terms of how it makes you feel are similar. I love running around Altrincham (mainly because it's nice and flat!)- putting my headphones in with my music on helps me clear my head and I feel more focused after my run. Sometimes it can be hard to motivate yourself to get out but I always feel so much better when I do and never regret a run!"

Kate Smith - Client Services Director

In conclusion, even beyond Mental Health Awareness Week, let’s remember the simple yet profound benefits of walking for our mental well-being. Whether it’s incorporating short walks into our workday, exploring nature on weekends, or enjoying leisurely strolls with friends, walking offers a holistic approach to mental wellness that is accessible to all.

So, lace up your shoes, step outside, and embark on a journey towards better mental health, one step at a time.