Why walking is good for you
I’ve often refused to make any New Year’s resolutions. But this year I’ve taken one small step towards self-improvement. Well actually 2,000 of them, because I’ve upped my daily step goal, from the mythical figure of 10,000, where it’s been for three years to 12,000 which equates to approximately five miles a day or around two hours of striding, ambling or meandering. It sounds a lot but is less than the average Briton watches TV or spends online so, it’s all relative. After walking for many years, 12,000 steps is a realistic goal, incremental not impossible, and likely to be achieved through a series of smaller walks (which includes daily errands) not always a five-mile hike.
I discovered daily walking six months before lockdown, when I returned to writing. Like many other occupations, hours of sitting in front of a computer screen resulted in a stiff body and cross eyes. So, walking became part of my new daily structure, conducted in the time once filled with work travel and meetings. A readily available form of exercise, walking requires no special equipment, membership or pre-booking of classes. It builds stamina, helps weight loss and supports mental and physical health.
As a way to stomp out stress, meditate on a niggle or reframe nagging issues, the psychological benefits of walking are well documented with fewer cases of depression identified in walkers. Wordsworth, Dickens, Bertrand Russell and Aristotle were all committed walkers. I find it enables the periodic clearing of one’s mind, a re-engagement with the wider world and chance to soak up some nature. I note my senses are more attuned when walking; I’ll hone in on the sound of a blackbird, the colour gradations of a leaf or quality of light. Creatively, ideas might suddenly strike or descend with great clarity.
When it’s not about solitude and quiet, walking’s about connection and companionship. I’ve a growing circle of walking companions, happy to accompany me through parks, woods, cemeteries or along canals. I walk with my husband, relatives, friends, former colleagues and classmates. Meeting local neighbours once meant sitting and drinking tea. Now, an active meet-up is preferable; a chance to walk and chat. Walking in rhythm in fresh air is a shared experience outside of four walls that encourages relaxed, spontaneous, open conversation.
If we’re lucky enough to be able to, walking is something we all do consciously or unconsciously. We pay little thought to the process unless reminded by a sudden ache or pain. When we head to the local pub, or suddenly appear in the kitchen after being on the sofa, we rarely consider the miraculous act of human evolution and development that allows this vertical act of physical transportation.
Putting one foot in front of the other not only marks our growth from babies to infants, it represents the great evolutionary leap from quadrupeds to bipeds; from four legs to two. Physiologically, it involves a grand orchestration of heart, lungs, blood, muscles, bone and brain harnessing the respiratory system, muscle strength, bone density, balance and co-ordination which all need to be regularly activated and exercised. Use it or lose it.
One positive thing that has emerged from the pandemic is a wide-scale appreciation of the benefits of walking. In the second half of 2020, the Ramblers reported membership up by 30% and Sport England reported in the same year an increase of 5.2 million more walkers compared to twelve months previously. So, as resolutions go, it’s not really a punishment, denial or deprivation of any kind. On the contrary, it’s an enhancement; 2,000 more opportunities to enjoy the daily breath of life and the world in which we live.
Walk the walk:
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