Walking is good for the soul as well as the body

PUBLISHED: 07:42 18 May 2018

Norfolk country churchyards are places of quiet beauty, giving you a chance to re-charge your mental 'batteries'.

Norfolk country churchyards are places of quiet beauty, giving you a chance to re-charge your mental 'batteries'.

Archant Norfolk 2015

Let’s walk more, for our mental health as well as our fitness levels, says Nick Conrad.

I love walking, the longer the walk the better. I can lose myself in hours of gentle exercise. It’s where I do my thinking, it’s where I relax. For Mental Health Awareness Week I wanted to use this week’s column to share with you how I use both the Norfolk countryside and our beautiful churches to relax. I welcome you to join me.

Combining my two passions - history and the great outdoors - is a wonderful way to unwind and clear your head. Fortuitously, Norfolk’s countryside boasts an abundance of churches meaning you can easily use them as waypoints. There is nothing like sitting and reflecting in a quiet churchyard.

I took a gentle stroll on my round Overstrand seven-mile walk last week. As I sat on a little bench the wind rustled, whistling through the overhanging branches. I looked across the crooked, weather-worn headstones and pondered upon the hundreds of years of human history and emotion the place had witnessed. I reflected upon how the village had changed, yet the image of the church hasn’t altered significantly in the same time.

I draw comfort in the knowledge that regardless of how the future morphs and alters our world, for better or worse, some things do remain reassuringly familiar. Church and their graveyards give us that anchoring.

The surrounding grounds, due to the presence of our resting forefathers, remains a place of respect, a sanctuary. I feel a sense of sense of peace here. It’s a wonderful remedy for any troubled mind.

The trials and tribulations of modern life can fatigue any spirit. Though I’d like to make clear you don’t ‘catch’ a mental health issue, maybe we need to be better at building an inner ‘immune system’. Music, exercise, art, theatre nourishes the soul and provides both healthy escapism and time to relax to help relieve stress levels.

But why promote walking over these other wonderful activities? Because it’s free. Secondly, it’s amazing that doing something so gentle has such a powerful effect! Being active has a whole range of benefits when it comes to mental well-being. It improves self-perception and self-esteem, mood and sleep quality, and it reduces stress, anxiety and fatigue. Physically active people have up to a 30% reduced risk of becoming depressed, and staying active helps those who are depressed recover. In older people, staying active can improve cognitive function, memory, attention and processing speed, and reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

The best walks have a great conclusion, be that a cup of tea, a piece of cake or ending up in a location you love. For me it’s one of our lovely and intriguing churchyards. The combination of gentle exercise and our stunning countryside is a fantastic way to process life.

I was delighted to hear on BBC Radio Norfolk with Anthony Issacs how local churches are encouraging their grounds to be used to help people facing mental health challenges. They, and all those launching innovative new ways of promoting mental health wellbeing, have my full support.

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