“Walking in Wales is an opportunity to get out and about and see scenery and clear your mind and your thinking” so says Theresa May, by way of explanation for a surprise announcement that left media channels scrambling for comment. The Prime Minister had not long returned from her walking holiday in Snowdonia before she set the cat among the pigeons and in an interview, cited her long distance walk as part of the decision making process (although intuition tells you that a sizeable headstart in the opinion polls can’t hurt either).
But don’t hold an innocent National Park responsible, what this really goes to show is that your thoughts – with your movement – have a rhythm, and people from all ‘walks’ of life seek time to clear their heads, out in the open air.
Recently, Julia Bradbury has been one of many voices championing the link between walking and mental health, taking to the airwaves to push the health benefits of setting aside a little time each week for walking. She advocates ‘people to walk for 30 minutes five days a week to increase their mental resilience — an area more than 60 per cent of Brits say they would like to improve’.
Nor is she the only one to explore the relationship between physical exertion and well-being, as this week the BBC airs a program focusing on an unlikely group of runners, living with different mental health issues, as they train for the upcoming London Marathon, with a follow-up episode post-marathon. The runners are taking part in the London Marathon for Heads Together, the campaign led by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, the official Charity of the Year for this year’s marathon.
Loosely speaking, there are two kinds of experience at work here. There’s a considerable factor involved in walking which, at its heart, is a good long marvel at the great outdoors and frankly, needn’t be anything more than that (besides, it’s nigh on impossible to appreciate your surroundings through the window of a double-decker bus). But, stealing away into the open air, with nobody around for miles – that’s the perfect opportunity to slow down…and take stock of where you are, for a minor moment of introspection.
These are not opposing ideas though, and its obvious that walking doesn’t take place in a vacuum. There is also mounting evidence to suggest that access to green spaces, from urban to rural, is of a considerable benefit to our well-being. Plus, as Julia Bradbury puts it “When you stand next to a giant tree or stare up at a mountain, you feel that connection to something bigger, and this sense of connection can help put your thoughts into perspective”.
It’s important not to get too carried away here, a quick escape to the fields is by no means a cure-all. But all too often, and for most of us – a walk is purely functional or at times, a last resort when all other ways of getting around are exhausted. Yes, walking won’t get you anywhere faster – but isn’t that the point? Of course, many walkers will have already experienced this firsthand, and time-honoured testimony from great minds – ranging from Jane Austen to Steve Jobs – suggest that for clarity of mind, there’s nothing quite as effective as a good walk.