Kate Humble is one of the UK’s most well-loved nature presenters. Since the release of her book Thinking On My Feet Kate reveals why she loves walking as therapy and how we can make walking therapeutic for ourselves
In 1999 wildlife presenter and narrator, Kate Humble with her husband Ludo spent five weeks travelling through the Sahara Desert. They covered 1500km in that time, with just a few men and an astonishing 50 camels.
Describing her journey through the Sahara Desert, Kate revealed, ‘It was something I had wanted to do for a very long time, lots of planning had gone into it. We were walking for five weeks, we walked, rode camels and covered 1500km in that time. It was a truly exhausting journey.
Walking in the morning provides my mind with a sort of downloading time
‘We had a daily routine of walking from A to B. Walking was the fundamental thing that made up the entirety of our day, we walked and rode daily for up to 14 hours’.
Why do people tackle challenging hikes and depleting treks? Maybe for fitness reasons or to embrace a new landscape?
Have you ever hiked up a really steep mountain or hill? You probably hated it at first, but once you reached the top, you may have felt a euphoric sense of achievement for completing your climb despite your earlier reluctance.
‘Every aspect of that particular journey was a challenge,’ Kate explained, ‘just to be able to do it, from organising the trip, to finding the people who we could safely walk through the dessert with, every part of the journey was difficult’.
It was this particular walk that made Kate realise her love of walking.
‘For the first time, it gave me some kind of extraordinary immersion into the landscape and an idea of just what the rhythm of walking can do for you. When you’re out in a landscape like the Sahara Desert (which sadly some people think is really boring but it honestly isn’t), although it seems unlikely it actually changes all the time.
‘The changes are quite small and it’s a dramatic landscape. There aren’t any trees or buildings, it’s just sand, gravel and vast, so vast. Your mind is freed, because there are so few distractions around you. It’s just you and that vast space. I think that was absolutely the point where I realised the incredibly beneficial and therapeutic effects that the rhythm of putting one foot in front of the other has on your mind’.
Healthista recently spoke to Kate about why walking in general can be so beneficial, not just to our physical health but to our mental health too.
Walking as therapy #1: Health benefits and walking meetings
A new government study revealed that 41% of adults walk less than 10 minutes briskly per month. It is becoming highly unusual for people to complete their 10,000 steps a day, especially for those who sit at a computer all day.
Kate was able to offer us some advice. ‘Steve jobs used to do this and Bill Gates still does, I used to do it all the time too, I found it amazing – a ‘walking meeting’.
‘So instead of sitting down in the same office, you get up and go for a walk to have your meeting. For me this has been immensely successful and productive’.
Do you ever find yourself on a walk with a friend and all of a sudden you’ve made five weekends worth of plans. Walking helps you to think creatively – fact.
By going for a ‘walking meeting’, your brain is freed from the confines of the same four walls, obviously a walking meeting may not work if there’s ten of you, but if you are having a one on one meeting, think about going for a walk rather than just sitting in an office.
‘Sitting at a desk with a sandwich at lunchtime does nobody any good at all,’ Kate agreed.
‘Your productivity is going to deplete, and you are not achieving anything by sitting there, looking at emails, checking your Facebook while eating a sandwich. Get off your ass and go for a walk, you’ll feel so much better and you’ll work so much more effectively in the afternoon.’ says Kate.
Kate also suggested, ‘if you take public transport into work get off a stop earlier, walk into work as much as you can. All the little things really do make a difference. Its not about being thin or being perfect, it’s about being happy and that’s what we all deserve’.
Go for a walk this lunchtime and clear your mind, don’t just see it as ‘working off your lunch’.
Walking as therapy #2: Appreciating the seasons, scents & sounds
Who doesn’t love a change in seasons? It one of the most beautiful things about living in the UK, we get very different weather with each change of the season. Some of us love winter, whereas others despise it and wish they could hibernate through it and wake up to basking sunshine.
But imagine if the weather was the same the whole time, we would get incredibly bored. Have you ever thought that the different seasons, with the changing landscape, colours, smells and sounds could be natures way of giving our minds some free therapy?
After asking Kate the very tricky question of which season was her favourite she revealed that she prefers the ‘cusp’ seasons (the changing time from one season to another).
‘Spring and Autumn are both seasons where there is a lot of change happening, and those changes are dynamic and beautiful,’ revealed Kate.
Kate continued, ‘I suppose if I was forced to choose my favourite season it would be Autumn, particularly if you live like I do near beautiful woodlands, the scenes are staggeringly beautiful in the autumn. I know the bluebells that come out in the spring are also beautiful, but there’s just something about that autumnal colours and the wonderful relaxing effects it can have on people who are walking among them’.
Kate also explained that the wildness of autumn is what makes this season oh-so-fun, ‘the unpredictability of these amazingly low sun, golden days, followed the next day or even the next hour by a great autumn squall is just mesmerizing to walk through’.
It isn’t just the trees and vegetation that changes with the seasons. We can also appreciate coastal differences. Kate reminisced about her coastal visit the weekend before I spoke to her, ‘the coast in the autumn is fabulous, it rained, it was blowy then the sun came out, you can get all four seasons in a day I find.
If I was forced to choose my favourite season it would be Autumn
‘Autumn time, for its dynamism of weather, colour and the fact that it’s an excellent time to see wildlife (due to less foliage) is the perfect time to get out and appreciate what our beautiful country has to offer’.
Some people have a smell or a sound that reminds them of their happy place. It’s why so many people say ‘this smells like home’ with a humongous smile across their face.
Sounds too can bring back wonderful memories for some people. Listening to the distant chirping of a bird, the lamb calling to the ewe during lambing season or Kate’s favourite ‘a skylark singing’.
Kate also admitted to loving the smell of silage. The fact is whatever smell makes you happy whether that be cut grass, rain soaked parks, or the sound of birds or rain, get out for a walk and discover those scents and sounds that make you smile.
Walking as therapy #3: Walking is your ‘downloading time’
The physical action of walking can work wonders for your brain. In fact many people start their day with a walk or run, claiming that it helps to clear their mind for the rest of the day.
Kate agrees, ‘Walking is perfect for getting that much needed head space. That gentle time of moving through a landscape, at a pace that allows you to notice and enjoy things but also allowing your mind to de-clutter and decompress. For me, it is so important to start my day with a walk. After this I feel I can begin my day with a clear and content head.
‘Walking in the morning provides my mind with a sort of downloading time,’ explains Kate. ‘This allows any worrying thoughts I’ve had through the night, (where you wake up think ‘I have so much to do I don’t know where to start’), to somehow organise, priorotise and put any worries into perspective just by simply walking’.
I wondered whether Kate had recently practiced what she preaches and solved any worries of her own by walking.
‘Well, I’m about to host a really big and important fundraising gala next week with Sir David Attenborough – I know,’ shrieked Kate.
‘It’s a very important event, I’ve been trying to work out the opening to my speech, it really is quite a scary thought, but sorting it out in my head every morning is certainly helping.
‘There will be 350 people at the natural history museum, a lot of amazing people, and I have to stand up and welcome them all. I’ve been trying to work out a speech that isn’t too long but will inspire the audience to have a lovely evening and give money to the wonderful charity,’ says Kate.
Well if it works for Kate, it can work for you too. Try it for yourself, wake up and go for a walk tomorrow morning, you don’t even have to focus on solving any problems. Just put one foot in front of the other and your mind will clear itself.
Walking as therapy #4: Paying attention to nature
Okay we’re back to nature, the animals of nature to be precise. Have you ever stopped to appreciate the wildlife around you? The migrating birds, the scavenging squirrels, the hungry foxes? Maybe, but probably not as often as you should. If you live in an urban area though, you may have foxes running over your feet. Fact is we don’t stop to really look do we?
We’re always busy, walking with our heads down sending that urgent email. What we should start doing is looking up and around us.
‘It is always lovely to see any wild animal, particularly in the UK,’ says Kate. ‘We have not done our wildlife any great favours, we’ve destroyed so much of our natural habitat and encroached on so much of our wild land, so to see any form of wild animal should be considered a real treat.
‘I love looking out for foxes, deer, squirrels and badgers. Even if it’s a fleeting glimpse it’s still an exciting moment that more people should look out for and appreciate’.
Kate described seeing a peregrine falcon on one of her recent walks, ‘I saw a peregrine falcon playing with the doves that had roofed in the cattle shed next door, and it wasn’t in full hunting mode, but you could see that it was having a bit of a practice and it was just this wonderful glimpse into the wild world’.
When you’re walking you always have the possibility, even in an urban area, to spot something exciting, that possibility of coming across a little moment that only you are witnessing is very special – it should leave you feeling special too.
Walking as therapy #5: Walking is the perfect first date
Now this is something we all should consider trying. Kate revealed that walking would be the perfect first date, and I totally agree.
‘Why would you go to a restaurant and scrutinise each other?’ asked Kate, ‘surely it’s far nicer and less stressful to go for a walk where conversation flows naturally. Silences wont feel awkward as they are a natural thing when walking, you don’t have to make eye contact and in fact if you do, you’re probably going to fall over’ says Kate.
Walking is a far less confrontational, a ‘lesser judged way’ of having a conversation.
Kate explained that, ‘There are also walking groups out there for people who feel isolated and lonely, it’s one of the really desperate things about modern life, how isolated people feel, and there are now walking groups encouraging people to walk together.
‘Even if you feel a little bit shy, or awkward, walking with someone is a much easier way of creating companionship than sitting and having a coffee and not really knowing what to say. First of all you have something in common, you’re doing the same thing – walking’.
Kate also added, ‘You can spot and enjoy things about a landscape that perhaps the other person your walking with has or hasn’t noticed, you can share it and talk about it. Walking really is a lovely way of bringing people together but equally it’s also a great way of being solitary when we need to be alone, as long as it’s your choice.
So next time your friend asks for your precious time and suggests ‘a coffee’, suggest a park walk instead.
Can us Londoners go for a decent walk too?
‘If I lived in the countryside I would probably walk more’, sound familiar? Have you used a similar excuse? Yes London is a busy city full of tall buildings, but it is far more green than we all think.
Kate has lived in Wales for 11 years since 2007, but before moving to Wales, Kate lived in London.
‘When I go back to London, I try to walk as much as possible. I’ve come to really appreciate walking in London. It actually is, a fantastically green city,’ says Kate.
‘When I’m in London, I still always start my day with a walk, in fact I schedule my meetings, so that I am able to walk everywhere in between the meetings, I never get on the bus and the tube. It doesn’t work every time but it is always my aim to walk as much as I possibly can.
‘When in London, I usually stay somewhere near Hyde park. Again, I will always start my day with a walk or run around Hyde park and Kensington gardens, it is my fail safe route that I can even do in the dark,’ explains Kate.
As Kate used to live in London I was keen to find out if she had any walks to recommend that she used to do, so that us Londoners can try them out for ourselves.
Kate had a few suggestions for us, ‘Richmond Park is amazing, it doesn’t even feel like you’re in London at all, Wimbledon common of course, everyone has to go and look for a Womble of Wimbledon.
‘Kew gardens, I mean, Kew Gardens! Oh my goodness, what an amazing resource that is – I absolutely adore Kew,’ gushed Kate.
Kate added, ‘you’ve also got the Towpath, when I lived in London I used to run along the Towpath all the time, but it’s so much nicer to walk.
‘There are also so many hidden gems around London, I discovered one the other day whilst there, the Temple Gardens at Temple. These tiny but beautiful little gardens right in the middle of the law courts area, it was just stunning. In amongst all these buildings, thinking there can’t possibly be a green space here, but there always is and it was just wonderful’.
Make your favourite walk more exciting – walk it in the dark
If you have a favourite walk but want to change things up a bit, pick a night with a bright moon says Kate.
‘There’s something really wonderful about relying more on your different senses. In the dark you could use a torch, but I find if I’m walking a familiar or favourite path, I like to use the moonlight. Moonlight can be staggeringly bright.
‘A group of us once climbed a mountain near to us called the ‘Sugar loaf’, during one of the super moons, we didn’t need a torch at all. We set off at 8pm on a November night, it was pitch dark apart from this extraordinary blue moonlight. We were able to get all the way to the top and back down again for 11pm without any of us using a torch.
Kate added, ‘there is also something lovely about the differences in the dark too. The sounds of different animals around during nightfall, at this time of year you’ll hear the tawny owls flirting, animals scuttling around in the undergrowth. I do just love the feeling of being out in such cloaking darkness’.
Thinking On My Feet by Kate Humble is available to buy now.
Follow Kate on Twitter: @katehumble