By Heather Thompson, Walking Experience Manager at Ramblers, Britain’s walking charity.

If you’re looking for a way to improve your focus, manage stress or simply relax, walking might be the answer.

The benefits of walking for health and wellbeing reasons are well documented; regular walks can increase concentration, improve sleep, and even help us manage health conditions. Stepping away from your desk or gathering family and friends together to enjoy the simple pleasure of walking can have big benefits for mental wellbeing too.

How does the magic of walking work?

Well, for one thing walking releases endorphins, so-called ‘feel-good’ chemicals produced by our brain. These help promote relaxation and improve wellbeing.

Just one short outdoor walk at a gentle pace can put us in a better mood and leave us feeling more confident. We’re happier, healthier, and likely to live longer when we spend time in green spaces.

What does the science say?

The UK’s Chief Medical Officers recommend that adults should undertake at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity, such as walking each week.

Different research all points in the same direction. Walking has a positive impact on both physical and mental health, with it being shown to help reduce the risk of dementia, heart disease and cancer.

Taking the first step

If you’re not used to walking, start gently. Set out at an easy pace and keep it short. Work out a route that suits you and as you build up your stamina, extend the distance over the coming days and weeks.

Starting with just a 10-minute daily walk will be beneficial and you’ll really start to feel the difference if you can build up to 30-minute brisk walk five days a week.

If you are an experienced walker, then why not set yourself the challenge to up your walking game and explore new routes near you? By increasing the distance, elevation or speed at which you walk, you can unlock even more health benefits, especially if you can pick up the pace enough to get your heart racing!

It’s a low investment opportunity

The best thing about walking is, you can start today. No special kit or preparation is needed. The number one rule is to walk in footwear that makes you feel comfortable and supported. So a trusty pair of trainers is often the best call. Once you’ve decided to explore a bit further, you may want to invest in a pair of well-fitted walking shoes – most outdoor stores will provide a personalised fitting service.

When it comes to clothing, it’s all about layering. Adding or removing layers of clothes is the best way to react to changing weather and keep comfortable. From a base layer, like a workout or running top, to a waterproof outer layer, getting this right will mean you’re ready for whatever the day throws at you.

Maximise the benefits

Research suggests that physical activity in a ‘green’ environment has even greater positive effects. More than two-thirds of people surveyed for the Ramblers in 2020 reported that green spaces help with their mental wellbeing.

Finding green routes doesn’t have to mean heading to the wide-open countryside. Not everyone has the time, means or inclination to travel far to enjoy nature.

Surveys in England consistently show that people are far more likely to visit nature close to home and green leisure walking routes are opening in cities like London and, Birmingham and Manchester. These provide easy to reach, welcoming opportunities for people to access nature closer to where they live and work, allowing everyone to experience the health benefits of walking.

Expand your social network

Walking can open up new social opportunities too, whether it’s discovering a great coffee shop, playground or getting to know other people in your community. Walking can help to combat isolation and loneliness.

If you don’t want to go it alone, there’s a rise in walking groups popping up which bring together people from shared backgrounds or with similar interests. With a little research, you are sure to find a walking group that ticks all your boxes.

For more advice on getting started, finding routes and groups, head to the Ramblers website:

About the Expert

Heather Thompson is the Walking Experience Manager at Ramblers, Britain’s walking charity. With over 25 years of walking experience, Heather has a huge passion for ensuring people feel confident getting outdoors.

Working with a team of staff, volunteers and with Ramblers walking groups, Heather uses her skill and knowledge to help people access the green space and countryside around them. She empowers people of any age, background, or ability to spend more time walking through sharing her expertise in navigation skills and advice on how to get the best out of any walk.

Heather is particularly passionate about promoting the health benefits of walking and through the Ramblers Wellbeing Walks programme is helping to open the way for everyone to enjoy the simple pleasures of walking, be it a short urban stroll or a challenging hike.