As a Mountain Leader I feel a real sense of obligation to raise awareness of the outdoor environment for people walking in the countryside. This can be a bit over the top for a leisure walker but it’s all too easy to take a stroll and not appreciate the abundance of flora and fauna, the natural and human history of an area or to ignore the impact of humans on these environments either positive or negative.
But that’s okay…. The physical and mental benefits of exploring the outdoors aren’t necessarily improved by understanding any of the above but, once you are made aware of the types of flowers, history of area and other useful pieces of information they become very obvious and can have a positive impact. A study at the University of Michigan, published in the Journal of Psychological Science, sent volunteers out on a a 50 minute walk. Half of the volunteers walked through urban areas and half walked through the countryside. Before and following the walk a series of mental tests were administered to the volunteers and those that had taken the ‘natural’ routes has improved their performance by 20%. The findings suggested that the countryside walk allowed participants to ‘switch’ off whilst the urban environment meant that walkers were constantly having to be alert and focused on their surroundings. What about the physical side? Well the physical benefits of walking include the use of calories, improved muscular endurance, improved cardio vascular endurance (albeit at a lower intensity) but most importantly it can be done by anyone of any age and any fitness level. A 2014 report entitled ‘Walking Works‘ details the health benefits of the regular outdoor walking. The report by Ramblers and Macmillian Cancer Support stated that walking for the duration, recommended by the chief medical officer, of 150 minutes per week could save 37,000 lives each year and could drastically cut the humber of cases of type 2 diabetes.
The benefits of this form of exercise can be enjoyed by the whole family for free and it is also chance to educate children about the world around them and the benefits of a leading a healthy lifestyle. My boys are now quite knowledgable about farms, tractors (particularly Stanley) and what happens on farmland through the seasons, this came not directly from me but from encouraging their curiosity about the world around them on our countryside walks. They also have developed an interest in wild animals such as butterflies and birds after looking at Field Study Council cards that they received as a gift from their grandparents.
Most people won’t need convincing on the benefits of walking in the countryside as part of an active and healthy lifestyle, it may seem obvious that it has mental and physical benefits but for me its more than that. I gain a sense of spirituality from ‘the great outdoors’ which I’d never been able to find in a place of worship but there in lies another blog post.
So why bother walking in the countryside? Simple for your physical and mental health and well-being and that of the generations to come.