We’re all familiar with the benefits of walking. Not only has this simple exercise been proven to lift your mood,  it has also been shown to manage a number of chronic health problems such as high blood pressure, thinning bones, and Type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, research has shown that regular walking helps increase your ability to pay attention and maintain concentration. All this is possible, in exchange only for a good pair of walking shoes and some self-discipline to make sure you do a 30 minute walk at least three times a week.

However, a number of recent findings have shown that the benefits you derive from walking depend to some extent on how and where you take your walks. If, for example, you walk while you’re also doing something else—talking on your phone, looking at a screen, or even listening to an audio book—you’re less likely to feel calm at the end of the walk.

This is because multitasking means you’re continually distracted, so cortisol levels remain elevated. Furthermore, because you’re not paying full attention to where you’re going if you’re outside or how you’re positioned if you’re on a treadmill if you are inside, you’re also more likely to injure yourself. The best way to ensure a sense of calm and wellbeing while walking is to pay attention mindfully—that is, fully and without passing judgment—to how you’re moving and what is happening around you.

Walking anywhere in nature will help you sleep more restfully, says Linda Blair

Furthermore, where you choose to walk also makes a difference to how you feel. In particular, walking in a natural environment has been shown repeatedly to reduce stress levels more effectively than walking in urban areas. Even more specifically, it seems there are differential benefits depending on where in nature you choose to walk. In 2015, Ellie Ratcliffe was commissioned by the National Trust to look at the differential effects of coastal and inland walks. She asked 99 people to take a walk, either in the countryside or along the coast.

Although subjects in both groups felt happier and calmer after their walk, and although almost everyone reported better quality sleep and greater alertness on waking the following morning, those who walked by the coast slept significantly longer than inland walkers, increasing their night’s sleep by an average of 47 minutes as compared to 12 minutes for those who walked inland..

Walkers were also asked to note any memories or thoughts during their walk. Here, too, there were differences. Coastal walkers described memories associated with childhood and family holidays, whereas inland walkers more often reported memories that were related to previous experiences in a more general, non-specific way.

So, if you want the best out of your walk head to a natural environment which is more soothing than walking in the city, and walking anywhere in nature will help you sleep more restfully. However, if you particularly hope to sleep for longer and to feel more connected with the whole you, then the best place for you to walk is by the seaside.

Source: The Telegraph
February 8, 2016
By Linda Blair