Sometimes my favourite Radio 4 programmes overlap. This time it started when Clare Balding walked with Geoff Nicholson for her Ramblings programme. Geoff blogs about walking in Hollywood, and was reflecting on his move to the States and the impact that walking less was having on his wellbeing.
“I found myself becoming incredibly & inexplicably depressed […] it took me a while to put two and two together, but it suddenly occurred to me that I wasn’t doing any walking. I was driving down the hill, I was driving around, I was driving to the beach and it didn’t agree with me. Or at least my life had to include walking in some form. And so I thought, ‘yeah, you’d better start walking kid’. And I did.
“I’m still enough of a melancholic that the gloom comes on from time to time, but that’s the moment I know that I haven’t been doing enough walking and I get out there. And it can only be 20 minutes up the road and 20 minutes down the road or it can be a major hike, but for whatever reason it does me good and it seems to be essential – this is a good thing to know about yourself. I didn’t really know it until I didn’t do it.”
Clare shared the same experience.
“When I’m away on long trips working I’ve got to walk every day – every morning. Otherwise I get myself into a state of not enjoying it. I’m doing wonderful jobs, but I just need to walk first.”
On a much smaller scale I can relate to this too. The combination of working from home and applying unsuccessfully for jobs earlier in the year made me feel increasingly isolated and unhappy. It was only through walking that I found that I came back to myself, and felt increased energy and focus to keep going. This culminated in me doing a pilgrimage as a Duke of Edinburgh Diamond Challenge that I’m hoping to write about soon.
The second time I heard about walking on Radio 4 was on Claudia Hammond‘s All in the Mind, in an episode enigmatically titled Tasers, Amnesia Museum, The dangers of diagnosing Donald Trump. Here Dr Catherine Loveday from University of Westminster was talking about research from Iowa State University, which looked at which elements of walking (for example, exercise, sociability or being in nature) are enough to improve our mood. The fascinating study ended – somewhat bizarrely – with participants either sitting, standing or walking on a treadmill and watching a video. This showed that the physical act of walking is enough on its own to significantly improve our mood. This is even true when faced with doing something difficult.
“It was better to go on a walk and then write an essay than it was to just sit and have some peace and quiet.”
This suggests that walking and wellbeing are just made for each other … that maybe nothing else is needed. In a quote from Catherine Loveday:
“Emotion and motion are combined concepts.”
I’m currently doing some work with the charity Living Streets, the UK Charity for everyday walking. It’s great to be contributing to a project that is all about getting more people walking – specifically with over-50s as part of Leicester Ageing Together. There’s a huge social element in people walking together, and it also helps people explore their local community. But it’s also really exciting to know that just the simple act of walking can make a huge difference to wellbeing.
So, the message from this must be to walk when you can, where you can… it doesn’t matter as much where you walk, with whom or how.
There’s more to explore from the next episode of All in the Mind, which I’m also hoping to explore further. But, just off for a quick walk first.
On reflection, maybe there’s a better set of three circles to describe this…