Mental Health Awareness Week 18th – 24th May

Be Kind to yourself and Guernsey - Go for a walk

This week’s Mental Health Awareness week organised by Guernsey Mind has kindness as its theme. This is highly appropriate as the value of kindness has been so present in these past few challenging weeks. Across the Bailiwick we have seen so many examples of being kind from individuals through to organisations and at a community level. Let’s hope that a legacy of these times will be a change in attitudes so that kindness is the starting point for all our behaviours.

The week has quite rightly started with a reminder that kindness doesn’t have to be something that we do to others. The article that kicked off the week Self care - How do you look after yourself? is the right place to start as it lists all the things we can do to make ourselves stronger, healthier and ready to go out and be kinder to everyone…..and what’s the first tip that is listed? ‘Walking with or without the dog’  

At the Health Improvement Commission, we love any form of physical activity or movement and we want to help the whole community to be more active, more often. Walking is an often underestimated, but very simple form of exercise.

The beauty of walking is its simplicity. Slip on a pair of shoes, open the front door and off you go.

It’s also accessible and free so you don’t need expensive gym membership or special shoes to take part and you can wear everyday clothes to do it.

It’s perfect for many people with health conditions, or for those who don’t fancy more intense exercise. Also walking is gentle, so you’re unlikely to get injured.   

Less than half of Guernsey adults achieve the recommended 150 minutes of at least moderate intensity physical activity per week and walking counts towards those all-important guidelines. Walking is a great ‘gateway’ to the world of physical activity because the almost immediate benefits that it brings can inspire people to try out other activities as they build their confidence. You can start off slowly and build up gradually.

A good walk does wonders for your mental wellbeing

But it's not just about the occasional one-off feel good factor. Walking is a straightforward and highly effective way to be active and has a whole range of benefits when it comes to mental wellbeing.

Recent research has shown that physical activity is a natural anti-depressant. Even low intensity exercise (such as a gentle walk) can be a welcome distraction from daily stresses and produce mood-enhancing serotonin, endorphins and stress-relieving hormones.

Another recent review of the research, showed that there is strong evidence that walking can prevent and treat depression and anxiety and may improve mental health outcomes such as happiness and self-esteem. The study also showed that walking in nature might bring additional mental health benefits. Guernsey has such an abundance of natural beauty that can be immersed in when walking so that we can reap these rewards.

Being active in general for older adults can also improve cognitive function and memory and can also reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

Walking is also a great way to connect with other people which is fundamental to our well-being. Walking with a friend or even walking alone and saying hello or stopping to admire the same view as others.

The physical improvements you gain by walking will help to improve your mental health too. As a weight bearing exercise, walking (especially stairs or steps in town or on the cliffs) will build and maintain lower body muscle and bone strength which is important in reducing the risk of falls in later life.  If you feel fitter and feel in control, your body image and confidence can increase.

For those who can’t walk, the benefits of being active in other ways can still be experienced.

Walking as an act of kindness

Coming back to the main theme of Mental Health awareness week, walking is a genuine act of kindness.

Walking has real social benefits as it’s fun to get together (currently primarily within our bubbles) and go for a walk, and in current times we have the added social skills of manoeuvring around other pedestrians to maintain social distancing. This is usually done with a warm greeting, friendly word and shared understanding of just how strange it feels to keep our distance. Taking a walk means you see more of your friends and neighbours out in the roads and lanes which can help everyone feel connected to our community.

And let’s not forget that walking has positive benefits for the whole community too. By leaving the car at home you’re helping to reduce pollution, cut back on traffic and make the island and world a greener place.

The Health Improvement Commission are committed to a whole-island response to improving our health. Our Be Active work relies on everyone playing their part to make activities like walking a normal, relaxing and enjoyable activity.

It is fascinating to see how communities around the world, including here in Guernsey, have collectively experienced how quieter and safer roads enable and encourage more people to walk and cycle. Many cities are reallocating space to create more protected space for people to walk and cycle and this is something that could be done here too. We hope that local decision makers seize this opportunity as a positive legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the meantime, let’s be kind to ourselves and each other, put one foot in front of the other and start walking.

‘Walk and Talk’, an informal and supportive walking group organised by Guernsey Mind that meets weekly (this photo was taken before social distancing was enforced).
‘Walk and Talk’, an informal and supportive walking group organised by Guernsey Mind that meets weekly (this photo was taken before social distancing was enforced).

For more info on Mental Health Awareness Week and local activities check Guernsey Mind's website