We’ve often puzzled as to why our hikes leave people a little bit more tired than they’re expecting. We’re in the tropics, so it’s often a bit hotter and more humid than hikers are used to, and the tracks we walk on aren’t constructed pathways, but often old village routes that were used before roads were built – not exactly wild walking, but a close relative!
We’ve been cultivating a little pet theory that this extra effort comes from spending most of our time walking on regular surfaces, such as roads and pavements, leading to a dulling of our sense of where our body is, including for example, where our foot is landing without really looking, or proprioception.
Watching our community guides as they zip effortlessly across the terrain where they grew up and still farm and fish, really makes this hit home.
In a search for whether this idea had some truth to it, we came across this really interesting article, “The benefits of walking on uneven ground“, which does indeed flag the importance of proprioception:
“One characteristic of wild walking is the need to become more aware of where to place the next footstep, and to make split-second decisions as we take a step that we may even have to change at the last moment if the surface seems untenable or suspicious. Whatever we do, we simply cannot fall into a repetitive and assumed rhythm when there are different angles, textures, springiness, supportiveness and even hidden surprises underfoot, making wild walking a truly mindful experience. If you’ve ever followed a muddy trail or navigated stepping stones across a river, you’ll remember the focus and wherewithal you needed to do it without falling.”
Thankfully, this sense is something we can sharpen and work on through practice, with add on benefits for our brain’s physical health, as well as our general mental health.
The article also points out that the additional physical effort of crossing uneven ground.
“When walking on even surfaces, we experience very little swing from side to side in our forward-moving gait, the way we take a stride. So when the ground beneath our feet is undulating, the increased shifting of our centre of gravity means more muscle effort and tissue movement is required to keep our balance, footing and forward motion.”
So, another reason why we like those post-hike naps so much!
And, it would seem the health benefits of finding your ‘happy uneven’, are quite extensive. The article cites research that found over a 16-week controlled trial people walking on uneven surfaces “all had better scores on measures of balance, physical function and blood pressure than those in the conventional walking group. They also reported significantly greater improvement in balance, a key marker of healthy ageing, independence and mobility. Functional mobility was also improved, as well as their scores on a vitality test, which included factors like sleep, energy and feeling good.”
Apparently, walking on uneven surfaces has long been part of traditional Chinese medicine and forms the roots of reflexology.
So, there you go… not only does a bit of wild walking in Fiji sharpen your senses and improve your core strength, it also benefits your mental health and leaves you feeling good. We hope it’s worth the little bit extra effort!