How to get happy with an Active Adventure With Friends In Nature (AAWFIN)

By Di Westaway | Chief Adventure Chick | CEO Wild Women On Top 

Just as well Stress Awareness day was yesterday because if you’re feeling wrung out or finding it tough to thrive, you’re not alone. Most of us suffer from the lifestyle diseases of stress, obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease but the well-being cost of mental health is now over $200 billion dollars.

The public health officials admit that nothing they’ve done so far has helped stem the tide of mental illness. It’s a complex issue and those with depression often need professional help and medication. A factor stopping many of us from being happy is that it takes extraordinary discipline to do one of the key things that can help: exercise.

Getting happy requires a bunch of daily activities but physical activity is high on the list.   

When most people think exercise, they think pain. Like quitting smoking, exercising regularly is really hard to do. We know it’s good for us but we just can’t make it a daily habit because we’re too busy or too busted.  

Last year’s National Health Survey , which slipped past most of us as we guzzled Xmas champagne, showed that stress and mental illness affect one in five Australians.

We are in the midst of mental health crisis that threatens to send more than one generation to an early grave. Doctors, health educators, scientists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and celebrity ambassadors just don’t seem to be fixing us.

So we need to fix ourselves. My adult kids have worked out that if you want drugs, you go to the doctor; if you want to be happy, you fix your lifestyle.

Some doctors are now advocating Lifestyle Medicine as a solution to chronic disease. Dr. Jason Kaplan says, “exercise and relaxation are the most powerful anti-depressants available.  

How do we force ourselves to take our medicine? How can we motivate ourselves to get and keep healthy habits?

One option is to make moving more fun. Studies show that most people think exercise is painful time-consuming-torture, best left for gym junkies.

Research shows that when anxious people walk they start to feel better. This can encourage them to reach out and connect with others and consider other activities that make them feel better. It works best when they find a healthy tribe to support their new healthy habits.   

Studies also show we’re more likely to stick to activities we like with friends we love, and if the activity has a purpose beyond the mental health benefits it’s even better.  

Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, said: “Walking is man’s best medicine.” Most of us see walking as a means to an end and definitely not a treatment for worry and anxiety. But it’s now scientifically proven by thousands of studies that walking in nature is a big fat health pill.

But my experience, helping nearly 20,000 people get happier and healthier walking the coast, shows that real adventures with friends motivate people to move more. And moving more is good for our mental health.

Psychologist, Dr. Gordon Livingstone, identifies three key to happiness:

1. Something to do 

2. Someone to love

3. Something to look forward too

We need simple physical activities that are relatively painless to make us well. Walking adventures with friends are cheap and easy. Studies show that walking with friends in nature distracts us from the pain of puffing up hills and stairs. And can be done by obese and overweight people. You just need a goal, a buddy, and a plan.

Health Director of the CSIRO, Dr. Robert Grenfell, says “Motivation, or lack of it, is one of the handbrakes that stop us from exercising. An effective way of building and sustaining motivation to exercise is to set a goal and do it with a group. An event like Coastrek challenges a number of these barriers – you have a goal, you are doing it with a group of friends and there’s a plan.”

“To achieve a challenge such as a 30km trek you need to train and that means lots of walking. After doing this there is a good chance it has set up some good habits of walking frequently.”

“Walking in nature appears to be better for you than exercising in a gym. When you are outside you have the wind, sunshine, trees, birds and things that make you feel good inside. This is great for your mental wellbeing. Also, the irregular pathways assist in improving reflexes and muscle responses. Add some friends and you have an all-round great exercise experience. And it only costs your time.”

Mother of 4, Bernadette, lost 20kg last year when she walked 55km from Coogee to Balmoral with her friends. She liked the walking, loved the camaraderie and enjoyed getting out into the bush. Now she’s a regular walker.

And there’s thousands more stories like this from walkers around Australia who have discovered the pleasure and healing powers of #AAWFIN real adventure with friends. Let’s share the love. 


Challenge yourself in 2017 with Sydney Coastrek 


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