The joy and pain of walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route: is it good for health?

Research output: Contribution to conferencePoster


In surveys of physical activity regular walking for leisure is the most frequently cited mode of activity. As part of regular physical activity walking has the potential to benefit physical, mental and spiritual health. Although leisure walking has many benefits long distance multi day walking can have both positive and negative outcomes. Repeated days of walking and carrying packs can be both physically and emotionally challenging. How people respond to these challenges can influence their enjoyment and overall experience of the walk. This research examines the experiences from a psycho/social and spiritual perspective of five women (aged 38-64 years) who ‘walked’ the English route of St. James Way. Data comes from focus groups, walking interviews and participant observation. An initial focus group prior to the walk examined expectations (hopes and fears) and physical and mental preparations. To give a level of immediacy ‘walking interviews’ were used during the journey. These explored the perception of the physical experience of actually walking, how they felt about the walk and their ongoing motivation. After the walk was completed a focus group was carried out to reflect on experiences and to explore possible changes in their perceptions of walking. The researcher also took on the role of a participant observer with the purpose of obtaining additional insights. Findings reveal contrasting emotions and experiences. Joy and happiness were expressed when participants spoke about the natural scenery, and social support and camaraderie of the group. Alongside this were negative aspects of pain from blisters and existing conditions such as arthritis. Spiritual aspects were spoken about after finishing the walk when an appreciation of their accomplishment was recognised. This was most notable when attending the pilgrims mass in the cathedral. Pilgrimage walking can elicit both positive and negative experiences but also open individuals to a spiritual awakening.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 17 May 2018
Event6th European Conference on Religion, Spirituality and Health 2018: Forgiveness in Health, Medicine and Social Sciences - University of Coventry, Coventry, United Kingdom
Duration: 17 May 201819 May 2018
Conference number: 6


Conference6th European Conference on Religion, Spirituality and Health 2018
Abbreviated titleECRSH 2018
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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