Frances Bain: Walking is a solid foundation for overall health and wellbeing

Walking for Health Programme Manager Frances Bain discusses why we're supporting communities to have conversations about what keeps them well.

Walkers enjoy a stroll and a chat

How many of us can say that we answered openly and honestly that last time we were asked, ‘How are you?’?
Or, the last time we felt things weren’t quite right with our mental health, how many of us sought help from a professional?

Most of us won’t think twice about seeking help from our GP, physio or nurse if we had an ache, pain or virus, and many of us protect our physical health through eating well, being active and avoiding alcohol and smoking.
But when it comes to mental health, are we so vigilant?

We all have mental health, just as we all have physical health. So, while it’s an important factor, health just isn’t the absence of disease, it’s how we feel about ourselves, our social networks and our ability to deal with what life throws at us.

It’s hard to believe that the simple act of walking can help us improve and protect our mental health but, everyday in this job, people tell me just that.

If you need solitude and space, walking gives you permission to get that; if you need company, an easy walk with a friend provides this too.

It allows you to get out and connect with nature, one of our basic needs as humans to protect our mental health. It gives us the opportunity to get the endorphins and serotonin that being physically active brings, which is also proven to support our mental health.

Looking after our mental health isn’t just treating and recovering from mental health conditions, although for many people that is their focus and it’s important to recognise that effective management and recovery are 100% possible for a lot of people.

I constantly hear from Health Walk participants that regular walking is the one thing they do that supports their mental health the most. It provides social support, relationships and interactions, positive feelings of wellbeing, it helps them stay mentally healthy, resilient and able to deal with situations that could otherwise negatively impact upon their health.

Recognising the impact that walking can have, we worked with SAMH and See Me to develop a toolkit and resources to embed mental health conversations into the 670 Health Walks taking place across Scotland each week.

We want to support communities to have these conversations about what keeps them well and also how to deal with things when life becomes difficult. A number of projects have been using the toolkit and the feedback has been extremely positive:

The statement ‘We all have mental health’ was a really good, safe and gentle way to open up a discussion.

"We talked about feelings of being alone after a bereavement, indications of feeling lonely and how important coming to the weekly walk was for people to feel part of something."

We’ve had disclosures of conditions individuals struggle with and also struggles people now identified that parents or family members had in the past that were not addressed or supported.

"As a group we collectively felt that we would strive to be more aware of each other and to check in on how we were all doing."

Every walker surveyed reported that the Health Walk was a safe space to talk about mental health and that they would encourage others to ‘Walk and Talk’. 88% reported that the Health Walk had a positive effect on their mental health and wellbeing.

Download a copy of the toolkit here.