Walking is absolutely the most accessible activity for most people, wherever you are, with no kit needed, and more of us did it during lockdown. During 2020 the number of miles walked per person increased by 7% to 220, the highest levels since 2002. However, now that life has opened up again, our motivation may have waned, but walking is beneficial in so many ways. If you’re walking less now here are some reasons to get back into the habit, for May, National Walking Month.
Boost your memory. Aerobic exercise, the type that makes you mildly out of breath, creates new cells in the part of the brain that lays down memories.
See what’s going on around you. Keep your eyes open and feel more connected to the world around you.
Treat your feet. Make the going easier underfoot with comfy, stylish trainers or approach shoes.
Enjoy a sense of achievement. Pick a long-distance route, break it into small sections, and tick off chunks until you’ve done it all.
Improve your fitness. Brisk walking (when you are too puffed to chat) is an excellent low-impact cardiovascular exercise, burning around 155 calories in 15 minutes.
Time for a treat. Walk to buy a delicious pastry, exotic fruit, a nourishing hand cream…
Save money on travel. If a bus journey costs £2, walking there and back saves £4. Do that five days a week and save over £1,000 a year. For driving, the savings are smaller (but environmental benefit is greater). Recent Department for Transport stats shows that 68% of one- to two-mile journeys are made by car or van. It costs 19p in petrol to drive a mile, so a daily two-mile trip is £2.66 a week, or £138 a year.
Reduce your risk of premature death The 10,000 steps a day target is pretty arbitrary, but if you like a round number, the new target is 7,000 a day, which reduces the risk of premature death, and pace doesn’t matter.
Visit a museum or gallery. As well as perusing exhibits you’ll be walking between them. And gallery-going is shown to relieve stress, and boost the brain’s adaptability, which declines with age.
Go on a guided walk/tour. Explore an area with a self-guided option, or guide-led walk.
Do it for charity. Search online for “sponsored walk” and where you live, and sign up for a good cause.
Feel wide awake. Heading outside within two hours of waking helps reset your body clock, by reducing melatonin production. Early light exposure can reduce night-time waking, too.
Top up vitamin D. This is needed for healthy bones, teeth and muscles, and one in five of us are deficient. In spring and summer, we’re unlikely to need a supplement provided we’re outside between 11am and 3pm.
Spend time in nature. Being among growing things, in woods, parks or gardens, improves mood, mental health and emotional wellbeing.
Listen to the dawn chorus. The birds sing half an hour either side of sunrise, loudest in May and June. Record it as a citizen scientist for Dawn Chorus, to document bird diversity.
Balance your brain. Walking’s repetitive, left, right, left, right nature is a form of ‘bilateral stimulation’, which means it activates both sides of the brain, connecting thinking to feeling, which is why a stroll really can clear your head.
Offset obesity-promoting genes. Walking for an hour a day has been shown to reduce their effects by half.
Lift your mood. A walk leaves you feeling more content, more awake and calmer, compared to inactivity.
Take a friend’s dog for a walk. It’s mutually beneficial and fun, and you’ll meet new people (other dog walkers).
Ward off colds and flu. People who walk at least 20 minutes a day, five days a week, have almost half as many days off sick as those who exercise once a week or less.
Ease arthritis. Walking (and other exercise) is being advocated instead of painkillers for controlling symptoms.
Be sociable. Invite a friend, or phone one while you’re out.
Watch the sunrise or sunset. Catch this beautiful daily miracle, to help you be ‘in the moment’.
Slow ageing. If you walk briskly, by the time you reach mid-life your body could be the equivalent of 16 years younger than that of a dawdler.
Reduce dementia risk. Regular exercise (20 to 30 minutes, several times a week, for at least a year) can cut the chances of developing dementia by about 30%.
Repeat your route. Ambling along on autopilot frees your mind from making decisions, allowing you to concentrate on more important matters.
Go your own way. This Ordnance Survey guide explains how to use maps to plan walks, with links to existing trails nationwide.
Stay at home. It’s raining, you’re expecting a delivery, looking after someone… if you’re stuck indoors, walk on the spot, while watching TV or listening to music.
Walk at work. Visit colleagues at their desks instead of sending an email, using stairs not the lift. Head outside at lunchtime.
Be motivated by music. The higher the BPM, the faster you’ll walk.
Adrienne Wyper is a health and lifestyle writer and regular TNMA contributor.
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