Walking In Winter

I wonder how many people hang up their walking boots for the duration of winter. It’s understandable if they do. The weather can be unwelcoming – sometimes even dangerous, slippery with ice or mud, or windy enough to bring down trees. And yet, looking through my study window today at the grey sky and the relentless rain being blown around by a fierce wind, I do feel an urge to get out there, nonetheless. I’m snug in my room, but perhaps a little too snug, as I feel my mind and body slowing down and I know from experience that if I don’t do something stimulating, a state of sluggishness will eventually prevail that would be unhealthy for my mind and body. So, outside I will go, come rain or shine.

There are sayings that I can quote to tempt those who are reluctant to leave the comfort of home: “The weather always looks worse from inside the window”; and “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing”; but these propositions only become convincing once you’ve actually tested them. A good, bracing walk is a well known tonic and it works all year round. Each of the seasons has something unique to offer and winter is no exception. After looking into some of the research on this subject, I found that I could pin down some that are particular to wintry conditions.

  • Sweet smelling compounds are released from plants, trees and soil after a pounding of rain.
  • Negative air ions released after rainfall are good for immunity.
  • Mud is rich in mood-enhancing microbes.
  • Windy days, when germs are blown away lessen the chance of catching Covid (still very much around).
  • Brown fat (good fat that gobbles up bad white fat) in our bodies is activated and builds up in cold weather.

And if it gets dark on your winter walk, there can even be extra benefits. Science explains that darkness is beneficial to blood sugar levels and digestion, and that dim light will generate melatonin which can help us sleep better.  All of which adds up to saying that winter walking is good for us.

It may be that you need a bit more coaxing to get out there. If so, don’t just take my word for it, try watching the series called Winter Walks on BBC iPlayer, where some well-respected celebrities talk quietly to camera of what they see and feel while out walking in the northern English countryside.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that every walk should be an expedition involving thermos flasks, sandwiches, and a map. Often, a walk in the park will suffice to perk up those endorphins. I sometimes do just that – though I am lucky to be able to take a short but exhilarating ferry-ride across the river to Cornwall for a lengthier ‘stride-out’ when the mood takes me. Nor do I always go alone: a walk shared is often a chance to catch up with a friend and enjoy their company while taking in all the pleasures of the walk. I call it a ‘companionship boost’.

So, work done, off I go, wrapped up in my fleecy layers, shod in my favourite boots, hatted and gloved, ready for what the weather has in store and looking forward to the stimulation of nature – not to mention the feelgood homecoming when I’ve had my fill.