There is plenty of evidence that walking is good for us.
Supporting evidence overwhelmingly confirms that walking is good for us in almost every way possible. Research shows getting up and walking around for two minutes out of every hour can increase our lifespan by 33 percent, slash our risk of heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, and more. One study found that walking for two miles a day, can cut our chances of hospitalization from heart disease by about half. Another study found that a daily walk for at least an hour, reduced the risk of having a stroke in men over the age of 60, and it doesn’t matter how brisk the pace is. While a three-hour long walk each day slashes the risk by two-thirds.
Walking also triggers our body to release natural pain-killing endorphins, so the more steps we take during the day, the better our mood tends to be. It’s even known to improve sleep, support our joint health, improve circulation, and reduce the incidence of disability in those over 65. One of the most common mental benefits of walking, is stress relief. It also increases concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress. Regardless of our age, or fitness level, it’s never too late to start walking and enjoy the physical and mental health benefits.
Walking a long way.
With all this overwhelming evidence, it seems natural to assume, if we hike a greater distance we must get more benefits. Most of us who embark on a long hike, do so, seeking change, with the hope that we can walk ourselves into a new body or a new state of mind. The therapeutic benefits of long distance hiking are well documented. There is historical evidence, of men in military units experiencing these therapeutic benefits on the lengthy walk home, after fighting a campaign abroad. On this journey, soldiers would slowly process and come to terms with the experiences they had lived through. Unlike today with modern transportation, where military personnel can be back home in a matter of days.
Various organizations, started by the men who suffered these experiences, have appeared. Sean Gobin hiked all 2,185 miles of the Appalachian Trail in America, after returning home from deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Sean founded “Warrior Expeditions” that supports combat veterans transitioning from their military service by participating in long distance hiking expeditions. A few return year after year, the trail becoming the center of gravity around which their lives center.
Depression after walking a long way.
Taking an extended hike for months at a time, necessitates being able to find the time and commitment, so it’s not a decision taken lightly. It also demands that you get to know pain intimately on a daily basis, and to be able to push through it. The complexity of life also changes, because for an extended period of time, we truly live in the present. This presents problems as the hike draws to an end, a realization that what has become “normal” is about to change. It also takes the body a few days to realize that we have stopped hiking, and this grace period seems to last for a few days. It is as if, after these few days without hiking, the body’s control center says, “finally this death march is over, now I can begin doing all of the repairs I’ve been putting off for months”.
For many through hikers, after months of living in a world where you’ve had a lot of control over every detail of your life, you’re again thrust into a world of decisions and conflict. It seems as if, people who live in the “real world” and haven’t experienced what you have, just don’t get how different the world can be. On a through hike, life is simple, but back here in the real world, things are complicated. The desire to give up all the advances of society to go back to a “better world” is strong. You may be hit with a sense of “powerlessness with an absence of hope”
When you stop walking there is no community anymore.
One of my favorite parts of through hiking is the community. A place where people from all walks of live come together, irrespective of their socioeconomic class or background. On a through hike, we share self-imposed struggles that bring us closer together. Real society, for all of its comforts, is often lacking any sense of community. At first, being home is great after your long adventure. No more foot, leg or back pain, a temperature controlled home with real comfort, with a family who wants to hear about your hike and see photos. But after a while they’re over it and you’re over it and your through hike is still all you can think about. Your homesick for a place that doesn’t have a roof, again.