Nature’s original exercise

For most of us walking is something we do without thinking, an action we take for granted. But it is also a wonderful way to stay active easily, cheaply and gently.

Time was, back in distant ages, when walking was the only transport option available. The hunter-gatherers of yesteryear had to get out on foot just to survive – now their descendants might find themselves using a fast food drive-thru. We could learn a thing or two from our ancestors.

First of all, walking is natural, just like breathing or eating, and a truly effective way of staying active.

Some people say it is as easy as A B C – perhaps that should be as easy as going from A to B.

It is a genuinely cost-effective way of exercising regularly. The main investment you need to make is a good pair of shoes or trainers and your time. And the savings are significant. No parking, fuel or transport costs. No personal trainer or class fees. No expensive machines or extra equipment. The cost to the environment is also minimal: walking is one of, if not the greenest form of activity. You may leave a footprint as you walk, but your carbon one will be tiny.

Walking is convenient, whatever lifestyle you have. You can decide to take a walk at a moment’s notice. Maybe at work, during lunch, go for a walk instead of sitting at your desk with food from the next-door convenience store. Encourage other colleagues to come with you: walking is hugely sociable because you can have a chat as you walk – sometimes on a run there’s barely enough air in your lungs to breathe let alone talk!

If you can walk to work, with the kids to school or to the shops, suddenly your personal timetable is far more controllable. There are fewer delays on the bus, train, tram or underground because you can plan your time. It might take a little longer but you will be less frustrated and less stressed, and every step along the way you’ll know you are doing something positive for your overall health.

The health benefits are many. A recent report described walking for two and a half hours as a ‘wonder drug’: it helps strengthen bone density, muscle mass and muscle tone. It keeps joints moving, but with far less impact than running or jogging. It can help reduce the risk of strokes, Type 2 diabetes and asthma, and lower the level of LDL cholesterol – not good for you – while boosting HDL cholesterol, which is good for your health.

Being out in the fresh air is always going to be good for you, as well as the vitamin D you will take in from natural sunlight. All of that combines to give you an energy lift and a better state of mind – not just from feeling better, but because you can explore your local neighbourhood and revel in the countryside or urban scenery.

If your schedule is ultra-busy and you are surrounded by people all day, you might find a walk in the early morning or evening a restful ‘me-time’ activity. Or you could join in groups of walkers who share a common interest: natural history or photography. We even heard of one walking group which is also a choir. Every so often as they walk through the local beauty spots they pause and burst into song! Now that sounds uplifting!

Start off gently. A rough rule of thumb (or should that be toe?) is that you walk 1000 steps every 10 minutes. So maybe start with two or three minutes moderate to brisk walking, and gradually increase that to 10 minutes and up to half an hour. By the time you are walking 30 minutes five times a week, you should start to feel some benefits.

If you really get the walking bug, you can start rambling and hiking more seriously, maybe trying orienteering or Nordic walking too. The secret is to find the version that suits you best. It will all be valuable, and that’s the beauty of walking: natural and adaptable.