We all know that walking is magic. The simple act of repeatedly placing one foot in front of the other provides extraordinary benefits for health, wellbeing and healing.

Walking can… [pause] let’s dwell on ‘can’ for a bit. Walking has been the subject of many studies, trials and meta-analyses. For a significant number of people a walking based activity has been shown to cause or contribute to benefits when compared to other activities or those not involved in any walking activity.

Of course walking will not provide all the benefits to all the people all of the time, and not all benefits are exclusive to walking, but statistics tell us that positive outcomes through walking are likely. So, walking is statistically likely to be magic!*

Here are some of the magic things walking can do:

  • Transport you to new places,
  • Bring you back to familiar places,
  • Create memories,
  • Inspire creative arts,
  • Provide quality alone time,
  • Provide family or social time,
  • Make wonderful conversations happen,
  • Provide volunteering opportunities,
  • Provide development opportunities,
  • Build community cohesion,
  • Contribute to weight loss,
  • Strengthen the heart and reduce coronary heart disease,
  • Lower blood sugar and reduce the likelihood of developing diabetes,
  • Ease joint pain (tell that to me after a 10-mile hike!)
  • Boost immune function,
  • Reduce the risk of strokes,
  • Increase good cholesterol and reduce bad cholesterol,
  • Decrease hypertension,
  • Improve your mood,
  • Improve mental health,
  • Reduce anxiety and depression,
  • Extend life,
  • Boost energy,
  • Improve digestion,
  • Increase connections to nature (and that’s another magic thing!)
  • Increase connections to culture and heritage,
  • Build muscle tone,
  • Make you taller,
  • Help your hair grow (not that I have personal experience of this!)
  • Reduce stress,
  • Increase concentration,
  • Help with creative thinking,
  • Improve sleep,
  • Improve bone density,
  • Improve overall health,
  • Increase balance and endurance,
  • Slow mental decline,
  • Reduce fatigue.
Walking is Magic
A group of walkers in a forest.

New magic is happening all the time

It was great to read a new piece of research extending the magic powers of walking to reducing lower back pain. Brilliant, add it to the list! The Australian study published in The Lancet showed that walking three times a week can almost half the recurrence of low back pain. These benefits were noticed in participants who walked an average of 130 minutes per week. How far and fast you need to walk to get the full range of magic – and the challenges in doing so – is for another blog.

But when walking provides so many benefits for health and wellbeing is there a risk that it will become over-medicalised? Whilst Health Walks and Wellbeing Walks are popular for many, are we putting off people who do not see themselves in deficit, but who do perhaps recognise the value of walking?

Could the message of ‘it will all be improved if you go walking’ lead to ‘if you walk further you’ll get more benefits?’ And so implying if you don’t walk far enough or often enough you are not putting in the effort to help yourself?

Are we marginalising shorter and accessible walks by focusing on heath and wellbeing benefits, when the rest of the walking spectrum is well catered for by ‘the spirit of adventure,’ ‘because it’s there’ and ‘walking for walking’s sake’ philosophies?

Five reflections

Here are five reflections on the magic of walking which have come from developing walks for a new programme (coming soon):

  1. Let’s not forget how hard walking can be for many. To fit into a busy life. To push through pain. To walk or wheel with a disability or restricted mobility. When encouraging people to go walking access must be considered in all its forms.
  2. Language is important. There is no such thing as a ‘simple’ or ‘easy’ walk for many. Navigation is not ‘straightforward’ for many. ‘Just a little bit further’ brings dread to many.
  3. Let’s not over medicalise walking and reduce the experience to health and mental health outcomes. Do I need to be struggling with mental health to join a wellbeing walk? Do I need to have health concerns to join a health walk? The way walking advocates describe their work is important.
  4. Let’s not consider potential walkers being in deficit. As a seasoned charity leader, I recognise the pressure to describe the benefits of programmes to funders in the most impactful ways, but this can lead to overly representing the negative characteristics of the people we work with.
  5. The mainstream walking market is saturated with products, guidebooks and messages from retailers and publishers, but very little of this is aimed at the easier and shorter (and I mean easier than ‘easy’ and shorter than ‘short’) end of the walking spectrum. This space is almost entirely occupied by charities, protected landscapes and community and health organisations.

A walk is a walk no matter how far or fast. A walk is personal. A walk moulds to the needs and wants of an individual. Walking has different meanings for different people. Most of all a walk should be enjoyable, and through this the walker will find their own magic.

*walking is probably not literally magic!

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