The healing nature of walking

I’ve just come back from a walk with someone I wanted to get to know better.

mother daughter walking in natureWhen I’m meeting someone new, I tend to start by suggesting we have a coffee and, once they’ve agreed, I ask if they might prefer a walk instead (or possibly as well).

Why? Well, here are some of the reasons I make that suggestion:

  • When our daughter suffered from anorexia and refused to speak to anybody else, she and I found solace walking in the countryside around our house.
  • When I started my own coaching business and I knew that I wanted to spend more time outside, I started coaching my clients while walking. I found that when we step outside the door and start walking with someone, without realising it we start to fall into step – our arms and legs swinging in rhythm to one another. This mirroring of body language creates what coaches call rapport. When we have rapport with someone, we tend to like and trust them more. We are more comfortable in their presence, and much more likely to be open and honest.
  • As we walk we have bilateral movement going on which means we have both sides of our brain engaged. This makes us much resourceful and creative. Research abounds as to how exercise improves our mental and physical wellbeing.

Take your walk into nature and you take the benefits to a whole new level. Nature supports our mental and emotional wellbeing. The Japanese take it very seriously, having invested a lot of research into exploring ‘Shinrin Yoku’ – the art of forest bathing, which means walking amongst trees. It is claimed to boost your immune system, reduce stress and blood pressure, improve your mood and sleep, and increase energy levels.

Knowing all of the above is a good reason to try taking a walk in nature, but, personally, I’ve done my own research. In December 2013 I tried a little experiment: I wondered what it would be like to commit to walking every day. I did it on the quiet to begin with, with a rule that I would walk for a minimum of 20 minutes every day.

After a couple of weeks I had convinced myself I could keep it up and I came clean to my family, explaining to them what I was doing. That was great because it meant that if, at the end of the day, they hadn’t noticed me go out they would check in with me.

That simple commitment has changed my life. It means that I have a least 20 minutes a day outside. I made the time short to enable me to get out of the door. Any longer and I might not have started. Even when I am busy 20 minutes seems feasible.

I feel so much better and so restored, once outside, that I will often choose to walk for much longer. Plus, I have really learnt to tune in and notice the nature around me. The time outside gives me head space, a moment to breathe, time to reflect and to hear myself away from all the pressures of daily life. While I get to share all these things with people in my working life, the bigger impact is how I feel. Walking daily has opened me up to feeling, feeling whatever I need to feel the good, the bad and the ugly; it gives me a safe space to process all that comes up in my life and brings me joy on a very regular basis.

This is National Walking Month. Perhaps, like me, you might just choose to experiment, or you might be encouraged by the science, but whatever the motivation please do give it a go.

I’d also invite you to take your important conversations outside while you’re walking. As I like to tell people, the worst that can happen is you get wet and the only thing that is likely to shrink is your worries!

Ruth Steggles

About Ruth Steggles

I’m a life and business coach working with entrepreneurs and individuals suffering from stress, anxiety and/or depression. Having trained, coached and mentored for many years, I coached my daughter to wellness when she developed anorexia age 12. Mental well-being became my passion - there are skills and techniques that can make a massive difference in people’s lives, and most people aren’t aware of them. Through coaching, speaking and the Fresh Air Fridays community, my mission is to give more people access to the skills that can help them remain mentally well or recover more easily when life gets tough.