If anyone knows a thing or two about walking, it’s author of A Walk from the Wild Edge, Jake Tyler. CALM caught up with the mental health advocate to hear why you don’t need to be hardcore hiker to reap the benefits of moving for your mental wellbeing.
A guy whose walking boots have trudged a hefty 3,000 miles, Jake left Brighton to walk around the UK with just a tent and backpack after hitting a low with his emotional health. His book tells the story of how he circumnavigated the British mainland and why he took off on such a huge trek:
“The book is about how hitting rock bottom enabled me to unlock potential I didn’t know I had. It’s my journey to understanding myself as a person, my own mental health and the mental health of the country. It’s about encouraging other people to get outside and use walking and being in nature as a way to manage their mental health and a realisation through the miles I walked that we’re all in this together.”
Since returning from his walk, Jake has continued to use walking as a way to keep his busy brain in check, so he explained why you should get moving for your mind. While we’re not suggesting you need to pull on the plimsolls and power round the local park every morning, walking can be a great addition to your day. Regular movement has been proven to increase self-esteem and reduce stress and anxiety – so even just a quick blast around the block can really boost your mood. But Jake believes it all starts with reframing the idea of exercise:
“I call it movement rather than exercise, because you hear the word exercise and you immediately think of sweat, sore muscles and effort. When you become mindful your body is moving then you notice it’s doing some good. It gives you a platform to build on and makes it less intimidating.”
It’s not about Bear Gryll-ing it up big mountains or buying a shiny new walking kit for the occasion, it can simply be about stepping out your front door for a lunchtime stroll or seeking out a pocket of green space to get some fresh air.
Okay, so it’s a little airy fairy, but life is busy and if you’re an overthinker (let’s face it, many of us are these days) then walking can also help us be more present, a luxury worriers rarely get to indulge in. Along his walk, Jake learnt how refreshing it was to live in the moment:
“I spent so long on the walk being mindful of my surroundings and effortlessly being in the moment that I suppose I’ve taken that mindset into wider life now. It’s been over three years since the walk ended and living in the moment was something I never really did before.
“These days if my mind is in the past or future it doesn’t take much for me to recognise that and if I need a break from my own thoughts or to reconnect with what’s happening in the here and now, I know how to get into that headspace more easily.”
If you live in a city, you may be wondering how you’d hear your thoughts or find relaxation amongst the blaring car horns and 24 hour noise, but maybe we can all learn something from Jake’s way of looking at the world:
“As well as the physical space walking gives you, it also gives you a lot of mental space to process things. If I’m inside, I feel like I’m relaxing but really it’s just a kind of distraction. Walking calms and relaxes me and makes me feel like I’m stepping out of a stressful life, but it also allows me mental space to work through things without distractions.”
Many of us know the feeling of needing to step outside after a stressful day and it’s no coincidence that aerobic exercise produces endorphins that help us feel less stressed. These happy hormones can give us a buzz and make us feel good, perhaps that’s why Jake didn’t want his walk to end.
Finding a renewed view on things along his journey, walking helped Jake work through a difficult period in his life. Meeting other people and having discussions about emotional health has also helped him to find the language to talk openly about his feelings, but above all, his hike has given him new ways to manage his mental wellbeing moving forward.
“I’m not an endurance athlete or a hiking guy by nature. Basically I was just winging it the whole time and there was something driving me to keep walking that was more profound than any of that. The walk, the hiking boots, the bag and the technical stuff were all just facilitating my journey. To be outside moving isn’t just good for us physically, it also makes us feel really good mentally. It’s a break from everything.”
The best thing about walking? It’s free. No overpriced membership or training needed. You can, very literally, take things step by step.
You don’t need to take off on a Hobbit-esque adventure like Jake’s to make a difference for mental wellbeing, walking is a great way to raise some cash for CALM’s life-saving services. Keep your eyes peeled over on our events page for future walking events, or register to join our Lost Hours Walk.
If you need to talk we’re here to lend a listening ear, no matter what. Our free, confidential helpline and webchat service is run by a trained team and is open every day from 5pm until midnight.
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