Explorer Emily digs deeper into why we love to walk, walk, walk.

Ever wondered why we feel so good after a walk, a hike, a jog even? Most of us know these days there exists a link between wellbeing and exercise – we all kinda know that endorphins get released and they’re things that make us feel good. But what’s actually going on in there under the flesh of our bodies?


There’s definitely a case for taking frequent walks


There are dozens of peer-reviewed journal articles and research papers looking into this broad area of study, I’ve written none of them.

However, after five years of study coupled with ten years of working with humans in a therapeutic setting; sometimes outside hiking in the bush for days on end, sometimes on someone’s front porch in the desert, and sometimes in someone’s room in an aged care facility, I’ve learnt some things and am here to share some of this juicy stuff.

Below is what’s stood out for me in my process of understanding and witnessing the biological benefits of walking, hiking, jogging, and how that impacts our mental health. I’m especially drawn to the idea that rhythm is therapeutic – rhythm that’s created while walking.

The Science of Our Strides

The renowned child psychiatrist Bruce Perry discusses how repeated rhythm can regulate our nervous system, and has the potential to literally biologically change our brain.

This is because patterned rhythmic beats (like drumming and walking) are proven to get into our brain stem, the oldest most primal part of the brain.


It’s also nice to share the rhythm of walking with others


The part of the brain responsible for regulation, that controls our nervous system, our flight-fight response, the part that develops first. Other parts of the brain, responsible for thinking, come afterward.

A huge chunk of research gaining popularity this decade isn’t the popular, evidence-based way in which we can ‘think our way into feeling better’ (cognitive behavioural therapy), it’s accessing the parts of the brain that trauma often impacts.

Read more: How Seeking Adventure Trains Your Brain’s ‘Leap Muscle

We know the relation of a fight-flight response to trauma – and we know this is happening at the brain stem – not the thinking part of the brain. Therefore ‘therapy’ that gets into the brainstem for some healing is going to be ideal, right?

Bruce links rhythm to our heartbeat, and delves deeper, to explain it’s our mother’s heartbeat, whilst we’re in utero, that establishes our primal sense of safety. In utero, we’re safe, we’re fed, we’re cocooned from the stressors of the outside world.

Psychiatrists, neurologists, and other specialists and academics in the brain space teach us that our brain responds to repeated patterns; we see this in a broad sense, how humans love habit, routine.

But also at a biological level, our neural pathways strengthen with repetition and learn to associate. Bruce concludes that repetitive, patterned, and rhythmic activity activates the brain stem. It regulates us.

Regulation; what occurs when we find some equilibrium and why we might feel really tired after a surge of adrenaline.

Regulation; a way of settling after a day of stress or being upset because we’re hangry (honestly that’s me).

A lot of us, most of the time, naturally and subconsciously regulate, but some of the time, if we’re really stressed or if we’ve experienced chronic, acute or complex trauma, it can be beneficial to give it a nudge.

Feel the Rhythm, Feel Regulated

A nudge of rhythm, repeatedly perhaps, like a big long walk. Our bodies and brains are constantly working without us noticing to bring us a sense of stability and safety, but this conscious nudge can do wonders for us.

Walking is inherently rhythmic. Rhythm mimics our heartbeat. This rhythmic pounding through the forest that mimics our heartbeat is regulating our nervous system.

We’re biologically creating emotional safety for ourselves. We are regulated, clear-minded, and free.


Now you have a nuanced answer for when someone says you hike too much


Recently, my own therapist told me to walk more, and I’d really like to take that as advice to quit my job and pilgrimage somewhere to enhance my wellbeing as we navigate through the depths of winter. So, see you maybe, after a long walk.

Read more: Science is Proving The Healthy Influences of Nature (Now Go Hug That Tree)

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