Walking your way to health and happiness

Walk in the woods

Have you ever wondered, as you’re trudging to the top of an unrelenting uphill climb, if there's a secret to walking faster?

According to a new study from University College London (UCL), if you put a smile on each morning (along with your walking boots and base layers) your walking pace will get a boost.

Researchers have found that happiness is the route to walking faster and improved levels of physical activity and wellbeing and that a positive approach to life leads to healthier ageing in general.

“The study shows that older people who are happier and enjoy life more show slower declines in physical function as they age,” says UCL’s Dr Andrew Steptoe.

“They are less likely to develop impairments in activities of daily living such as dressing or getting in or out of bed, and their walking speed declines at a slower rate than those who enjoy life less” adds Steptoe.

The in-depth study assessed over 3,000 men and women aged over 60 living in England. It investigated the link between positive wellbeing and physical wellbeing over eight years, and was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ).

People with low levels of wellbeing, as well as chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, stroke and depression, enjoyed life less and this took its toll on their physical health.

“This is not because the happier people are in better health, or younger, or richer, or have more healthy lifestyles at the outset, since even when we take these factors into account, the relationship persists,” Steptoe says.

“Our results provide further evidence that enjoyment of life is relevant to the future disability and mobility of older people,” Steptoe concludes. "Efforts to enhance wellbeing at older ages may have benefits to society and health care systems.”

If happiness can put a spring in our step, being active can also help make us happier. Our Walking Works report produced with Macmillan Cancer Support not only shows how getting active saves lives but how activities like walking can help our mental health too.

The report reveals that people who are active get less stressed, sleep better, feel better, have a 30% lower risk of getting depressed, keep their minds sharp, improve their memories and reduce their risk of having dementia.

If you're looking for ways to start walking your own virtuous circle to happiness, wellbeing and physical health take a look at our Go walking section for details of group walks you can go and walking routes you can try, plus other opportunities to get active on foot and walking advice.

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