Walk Your Way to Health and Mental Wellbeing
How many hours have you spent in front of the computer this week? What about the television? The truth is, most of us recognise that it’s not just the under-30s who are spending too long slumped in front of a screen and that this sedentary lifestyle just isn’t doing us any favours.
The science is simple. Keeping fit and active not only adds extra years to your life but also ensures better quality living. The general advice is to try to work at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity into your week.
But what if you don’t fancy the thought of pounding the treadmill in a gym? If you’re anything like me, the last thing you want is to find yourself face-to-face with yet another screen!
I was lucky that my moment of epiphany came in my 20s when I stumbled on walking as a way to explore the globe. Guiding group tours in South America and beyond, opened up a whole new world in so many ways, and as they say, I’ve never looked back.
In fact, rather than being weary of walking, I find myself becoming increasingly passionate about it, partly for its benefits as I age, but also for the simple joy of being in the fresh air, seeing new sights, and meeting some wonderful people.
The Physical Benefits of Walking
So, what are some benefits of walking? Well, a healthier heart and lungs, for starters. It’s also great for weight loss and reducing high blood pressure, and there’s less risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
As we get older, walking also helps us maintain strong bones and muscle mass. Everyone experiences muscle loss as they age, but if you’re physically inactive, you can lose as much as 3–5% each decade.
Isn’t Running Just as Good?
It’s true that running offers all of these benefits in addition to burning more calories. However, walking can still certainly get you in shape and is less stressful on the joints. Better still, you can take it up relatively late in life, regardless of your fitness level.
Location Matters When Walking
Once you’re in the swing of things and ready to build your fitness, you’ll discover that different routes and terrains exercise different parts of your body.
Walking uphill, for instance, gives a great glute workout, but if you’re trying to increase endurance, a longer, flatter walk can be just as effective.
The important thing is that it works for you. So, in the same way that we advise our guests to choose the right hiking holiday, we urge you to find a level and pace that you’re comfortable with.
Walking for a Healthy Mind
Aside from the physical benefits, what else can walking do for us? Let’s start with the feelgood factor. Most people who walk regularly are in no doubt that being out in the fresh air does as much for them as the exercise.
Feeling low? Just a 10-minute walk has been found to relieve symptoms of anxiety and help refresh the mind and lift the mood. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that walking also helps with creativity.
You’ll also find yourself noticing new things and discovering new places. Whether you live in the city or a rural setting, one of the joys of walking is having the mental space to absorb what’s going on round you.
In an urban setting, you’ll be surprised what you notice once you escape the confines of a car and pound the streets! And interestingly, a city walk with glimpses of quirky architecture and graffitied buildings can be every bit as satisfying as a stroll through leafy woodland or along a dramatic coastal path.
Any Other Reasons to Start Walking?
Personally, although I spend a good part of my year guiding walks, I still always try to catch up with old friends on a walk rather than over a coffee.
Whether you go on a gentle amble or a city-centre tour, as well as creating memories you’ll probably find that you’re both more relaxed and attentive to each other. Free from the distractions of other people and noise, it’s easier to focus on one another and on the conversation.
Of course, walking is also an excellent way to make new friends. If you’re unable to persuade your family or friends to join you, or you like the idea of meeting new people, sign up to the local walking group where you’ll find plenty of like-minded women.
Finally, there’s the added benefit that, unlike many gym and health club memberships, walking is completely free!
How Do I Get Started?
Firstly, remember that it’s never too late to get fit through walking. Here are a few tips to get things underway:
- Make sure you have some comfortable trainers or hiking boots.
- Start with walking to the shops or work.
- Plan a regular walk with a friend.
- Slowly build up to increase your walking distance and speed.
If you’re really committed, book a hiking holiday as the ultimate incentive for your fitness programme!
What is your experience with walking groups? Have you tried joining one in your own town/city? Or perhaps you’ve been on a hiking holiday? Where in the world would you most like to take a walking holiday? Please share in the comments below.