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New podcast: Aston University researchers explore the benefits of walking for Mental Health Awareness Week

Two researchers from Aston University’s School of Psychology discuss the mental health benefits of urban walking in the latest Aston Originals Health Matters podcast, recorded for Mental Health Awareness Week 2024.

Clary Collicutt is a PhD researcher, with her project specifically looking at urban walking. While there is much in the literature about the benefits of walking in nature and the countryside, very little exists about urban walking. Professor Rachel Shaw is director of the Applied Health Research Group and wellbeing lead for the College of Health and Life Sciences at Aston University, and Clary’s PhD supervisor.

The theme of Mental Health Awareness Week 2024 is ‘moving more for our mental health’. Movement, whether that’s going for a walk, dancing in the kitchen or playing a sport, has been shown to increase energy levels, reduce stress and anxiety, and boost self-esteem, and the Mental Health Foundation is seeking to encourage more people to find ‘moments for movement’.

One of the easiest ways to get moving is simply to go for a walk, and with many more people living in towns and cities, this is most likely to be around urban streets and roads. Clary’s PhD research is an extension of her MSc studies and is a qualitative look at how urban walking can help mental health. While a quantitative study would look at numbers and statistics, the qualitative research will allow Clary to connect with people’s stories and personal experiences.

As part of her research, Clary is interviewing people about walking and what they feel it does for them. One interviewee told Clary that she views her urban walking like a “prescription”, something she needs to do every day, while another plays Pokémon Go, which he finds an incentive to walk further.

Meanwhile, Professor Shaw has been researching wellbeing in paediatric critical care (PCC) staff, who face hugely stressful working conditions. One fact that has come out time and again is how important walking is, even if only a wander round the block in a break.

Clary said:

“Talking about urban walking, one of the main advantages is the complete accessibility of it, I think.

“I personally find walking a magic tonic. You can feel really stressed and then you can have a walk and I feel that really helps me. Or I can feel really good and have a walk and it will still help me. So, wherever the mood spectrum is, I think walking can benefit.”