Sponsored by Keen
Looking to walk the walk this autumn? Discover the incredible mental health and wellbeing benefits of walking.
If there is a more joyful way to spend a crisp autumn morning than walking through the park kicking up the leaves, I’ve yet to discover it. Surrounded by the richly jewelled trees just shedding their summer finery, the sound of the crunch, the slight resistance then satisfying snap underfoot, the scent of the shed leaves, it all provides a true feast for the senses. But besides being fun, there are a whole host of other wellbeing benefits of walking too.
In the last couple of years, I have discovered there are few times I feel happier than out for a walk. When I have a foggy head, a busy day or a hormonal overload, my old tendency was to curl up on the sofa and binge watch TV. But now, partly as a result of how precious time outdoors became during lockdown, I have learnt to treasure the world around us. So, when I need to think, when I’m feeling stressed, when I’ve just got out of bed on the wrong side, my answer is now to pull on my walking boots and head out.
Benefits of walking for physical wellbeing
On a basic level, it’s great exercise. Even walking slowly, I’m burning calories and getting my blood pumping round my body, which in turn provides more blood to my brain and helps me blow away those cobwebs.
A walk in the morning (my favourite time for a stroll, once the kids are out of the house) is also great for me, as I am a natural night owl. Left to my own devices I’d sleep until noon, so the beautiful morning sunshine gives my body clock a welcome wake-up, energising me once I get down to work afterward and even helping me to get to sleep earlier at night.
On some mornings I want to walk slowly, at other times (often on those cold crisp days that take me by surprise) I feel the need to stretch my legs and stride, picking up the pace and basking in the warmth my body generates from a good brisk walk.
This is the time I’m experiencing the biggest benefits of walking for my physical wellbeing: a fast walk has been shown to be just as good for us as moderately paced running, helping to protect us from high blood pressure and cholesterol, improving muscle and bone strength (and combatting the loss that happens naturally as we age), and, crucially given everything our poor immune systems have to cope with right now, boosting the cells that fight off disease and illness.
Benefits of walking for mental wellbeing
Whatever pace I’m walking, there are huge benefits for my mental wellbeing. The simple act of getting out there calms the nervous system and helps us escape the negative thought patterns that can trap us and make us feel anxious and stressed.
On days when I’ve got lots to write, I find a great way to get my creative juices flowing is not to sit in front of the blank screen waiting for inspiration to strike, but instead to venture out and jolt myself into a more imaginative, positive space. I find the presence of nature particularly helpful for this: the gentle interest I take in the trees or the sun-dappled ground occupies one part of my brain, allowing the rest to start sparking about the project I have ticking over in the background.
How to choose the right kit for autumn walks
Whatever type of walk I’m heading out for, I’ve found that being prepared helps me get the most out of it. In autumn I’ve found a gilet works better than a heavy coat. I don’t love the look of it (though I’ve got my eye on a nice faux-fur trimmed one), but I’ve found it helps me regulate my temperature better, keeping my body warm on those chilly days but stopping me from overheating when I do walk faster.
Finding a good pair of walking boots
Then it comes to the footwear: being surprised by a beautiful early frost is a pleasure, but not if it means slipping and sliding all over the footpath! For years I lived in my trusty leather riding boots as soon as the weather turned, but now I spend more time out and about I’ve discovered the joy of a walking boot.
An early shopping trip did not go well: I hated the masculine styles and the heavy leather that seemed to be everywhere. My feet felt like they were weighed down, and while they might just about do for the countryside, I certainly didn’t want anyone I knew to see me in them!
Enter the KEEN Terradora Flex!
Then a colleague told me about KEEN, and their lightweight, female-friendly boots. I chose the Terradora Flex in a subtle grey and sky blue – practical enough for the wet and windy park, but feminine enough so I’m happy to walk through town in them too! They give me more of the comfort of trainers than the heavy, restrictive boots I tried previously, but also provide the cushioning sole and extra ankle support I need when venturing off-road.
Established in 2003, KEEN is a globally respected outside footwear brand, applauded for its innovation without compromising its commitment to sustainability. The Terradora Flex has been consciously created with PFC-free water repellency with zero toxins and features pesticide-free insoles for natural odour control – an super effective technology without the downstream impacts of chemical equivalents. Light-as-air cushioning and a super grippy outsole mean it’s as comfortable off the trail and in town as it is when I’m pushing myself on climbs and more challenging pathways.
It’s got big bonuses for hikers too, with its clever, accordion-like KEEN.BELLOWS FLEX technology, which makes the forefoot flex easily, enabling hikers to move with less effort, leading to easier days on the trail and many more miles of comfortable performance during outdoor adventures.
Walking boots fit for autumn strolls
Wet or dry the Terradora Flex are my boots of choice, with performance mesh upper and KEEN.DRY waterproof and breathable membrane keeping my feet dry and comfy in all weathers. Designed specifically for the female foot and comfy from the very first step, the fit and support is flawless, with a lower collar height that encourages freedom of movement and an additional heel panel that reduces pressure on the Achilles.
They give me a bit of an emotional boost too – I sometimes worry that I don’t get enough exercise, but this sporty pair of boots help me feel that my stroll in the park really is doing me good, and give me a little spring in my step, both physically and metaphorically, that helps me push on and walk that little bit further, that little bit faster.
While I still mainly stick to my favourite routes round the park, they’re also good on the more challenging routes I’m now starting to explore, meaning I can feel comfortable and confident as I reap the wellbeing benefits of walking.
Psychologies Magazine editor Sally Saunders wears Keen Terradora Flex in Steel Grey.
The Terradora Flex is available at keenfootwear.com and outdoor and sporting goods stores across the UK now. Choose from the mid cut edition in a choice of Magnet, Vintage Indigo or Black (£140), or hearty hues of Canteen, Indigo and Steel Grey in the low-cut edition (£130).