Walk your Way to Wellbeing in 2018!
At this time of year, we are bombarded with adverts for gyms, exercise classes and workout plans – all with associated costs and contracts. But there’s one form of exercise that won’t cost you a penny that can improve your physical and mental wellbeing in a whole host of ways – walking!
Described as "the nearest activity to the perfect exercise" by health experts, walking is free, gentle and requires no specialist equipment – making it accessible to most people.
The benefits of walking
When it comes to the physical health benefits of walking, the statistics are really impressive – as documented in Walking for Health's “Walking Works” report.
Walking can significantly reduce the risk of several major health conditions by between 20% and 60%, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. It also helps maintain a healthy weight, improves cholesterol levels, reduces blood pressure, builds healthy muscles and bones, improves balance and reduces the risk of falls.
But it's not just about the physical benefits. Walking is also proven to have enormous mental health benefits – from improving self-esteem, mood, memory and sleep quality to reducing stress, anxiety and fatigue. In fact, walking has been shown to be as effective in treating mild to moderate depression as using anti-depressants.
And what’s more, walking with others provides the chance to make meaningful and supportive social connections. The latest evaluation of the Brighton & Hove Healthwalks scheme showed that three quarters of the walkers had made new friends. As one regular walker commented, “…it's a brilliant way of keeping healthy and making new friends. I would be lost if it stopped and would not be able to keep as healthy.”
The power of nature
When it comes to the mental health benefits of walking, there is something especially powerful about walking in nature and green spaces. There is strong evidence that nature promotes enhanced wellbeing, and that people with greater access to green space are more likely to live longer and have a reduced risk of mental ill health.
And our biosphere of The Living Coast is just bursting with green spaces and opportunities to connect with nature and enjoy the changing seasons!
Walks in our parks reveal a host of urban birdlife and beautiful trees, from the iconic twin native Elms of Preston Park to the ornamental Foxglove and Jacaranda trees of Hove Park and St Ann’s Well Gardens.
While a walk along our seafront reveals rock pools and chalk cliffs, home to fascinating marine life and cliff-nesting and wading birds like Fulmars, Jackdaws and Oystercatchers.
A walk through our woods, such as those at Stanmer and Hollingbury, reveals a host of native woodland animals and plants, from Green Woodpeckers and Speckled Wood butterflies to carpets of spring Bluebells and stunning purple Violets.
And up on the rich chalk grasslands of places like Castle Hill and Benfield Hill, there’s the familiar song of the Skylark, and the chance to spot blue downland butterflies and stunning orchids.
Get started today!
There are numerous opportunities to get walking, either on your own initiative or as part of an organised group.
Brighton & Hove Healthwalks offers 18 free regular walks across the city, ranging from under one mile to three miles in length. They are all led by trained volunteer walk leaders and are accessible by public transport. Or if you are looking for something a little more challenging, then the scheme is linked with The Ramblers who lead longer ‘progression walks’ of up to about five miles each month.
The Healthwalks scheme also offers special themed walks. This year you can join seasonal walks with The Living Coast team to find out more about the nature of the green spaces on our doorstep.
The first is a winter coastal walk along the Undercliff path from Saltdean on Friday 26th January (11 am).
The following one will be a spring woodland walk through Stanmer Park on Thursday 26th April (11 am).
Beyond Brighton & Hove, there are similar schemes operating in both Adur and Lewes and Peacehaven in East Sussex.
All are part of the national ‘Walking for Health’ programme that supports people to be active.
Before you head out, make a point of delving into The Living Coast’s interactive ‘Explore’ map to find a local Healthwalk for you, together with lots of other information of interest on places to visit, wildlife sites, footpaths, park facilities and more.
Make 2018 the year you get walking!
Volunteer Co-ordinator, Healthwalks, Brighton & Hove City Council