Operation Transformation psychologist Dr Eddie Murphy on the benefits of walking

“I have two doctors, my left leg and my right” - George Trevelyan.  

“I have two doctors, my left leg and my right” - George Trevelyan.  

One cannot underestimate the power of walking. I know of people who have left their grief and pain, depression and low mood out on the road and returned with hop, health and happiness.

Regular physical activity not only helps us to keep fit and stay in shape, it enhances our sense of wellbeing.

Walking is possibly the best exercise, being what our bodies are naturally designed to do.

It is good for the heart and lungs. It builds and firms muscle; helps to control body weight by boosting metabolic fitness; improves flexibility and coordination; increases bone density and stimulates the immune system.

There’s increasing evidence that outdoor exercise has a definite, positive psychological impact.

Walking can lift mood, help to alleviate stress, anxiety and depression and contribute towards a relaxed, more creative state of mind. In short, we feel better and live longer. And walking is free, it could even save you money!

TIME

In a world where the pace of life is fast, walking gives us the power to slow time. It can quieten our inner chatter and nurture a calm in which we can centre ourselves, meditate on matters and think clearer.

A lunchtime stroll can restore concentration in the middle of the working day. And walking for half an hour three times a week can boost mental abilities such as abstract reasoning by up to fifteen percent.

SPACE

Walking has particular psychological benefits because it opens up our horizons . We can become so used to the confines of home or office, walking allows us to enjoy our surroundings.

Research has shown that walking in countryside surroundings promotes the greatest feelings of wellbeing. Connecting with nature and the environment – the seasons, scenery, waves and wildlife – can be invigorating and therapeutic, revitalising both body and spirit.

Being outdoors in cold air or warm breezes lets our bodies know what time of the day and year it is so that they can serve us better, dictating appropriate eating and sleeping patterns.

LIGHT

I know you might laugh given our Irish summer but while too much exposure to the sun can be harmful, natural light is vital to our health.  Sunlight triggers chemical reactions in the brain that regulate a healthy mood and restful sleep.  It is also essential for the production of vitamin D, which our bodies need to absorb calcium and maintain strong bones.  Walking outdoors, in the natural light can enhance these physical benefits.

COMPANIONSHIP

Walking as part of a group is a great way to meet new people as well as explore new places. As a social activity, walking can build confidence and self esteem. If you’re not the one in front with the map and the compass, you can always have a chat at the back!

DAILY LIFE

Walking is easily incorporated into daily life. Walk as much as possible and remember that every little counts. Experts recommend walking for thirty minutes at least five times a week, which can be split into ten minute chunks to accumulate the total. It’s also generally agreed that brisk is best, which means walking fast without overexertion.

PROGRESS

Wearing a pedometer can be useful and satisfying when charting progress. There are free apps such as Mapmyrun for phones, to track your routes and speed, be it be walking at lunchtime or across Ireland.