“My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was 60. She’s 97 today, and we don’t know where the hell she is.”
So said American comedienne and TV presenter Ellen DeGeneres. But while five miles may be a step too far for many of us, May (National Walking Month) is the perfect time to get out in the fresh air and get moving.
Living Streets, the charity behind the campaign, wants everyone to experience the benefits of walking just 20 minutes a day – whether that’s a planned walk out in the countryside or simply choosing Shanks’s pony instead of the car.
There are sound reasons why we should take them up on their challenge. Research has shown that walking is good for us, both physically and mentally. According to NHS Choices, enjoyed on a regular basis, it has been shown to reduce the risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, asthma, stroke and some cancers.
The mood-boosting qualities of walking also can’t be denied. There’s nothing like a brisk walk to get the feel-good endorphins flowing. It’s a great way to clear your head, get an injection of energy and escape the stresses and strains of everyday life.
Given that walking is easy, free, low impact exercises that can be enjoyed by all ages and abilities, it’s surprising that as a nation we are doing so little of it. We walk a third less today than we did 20 years ago, with most of us only clocking up an average 3-4,000 steps per day.
Part of the problem may well be that the recommended 10,000 daily steps feels unattainable to those of us who are constrained by work or family responsibilities – or who simply don’t feel fit enough to go the distance.
But fitting walking into your life doesn’t have to mean putting your hiking boots on and heading for the hills. There are numerous fun and unusual ways we can incorporate walking into our daily lives:
Walk and talk
According to the British Psychological Society, the average office worker spends nearly six hours a day manacled to their desk. So what better way to escape than to take some of your meetings outside? There are some real advantages to getting out of the sterile environment of the corporate meeting room. There’s nothing like walking side by side in the fresh air to break down hierarchical boundaries, put people at their ease and build relationships. As researchers at Stanford University found, people’s creativity also soars by around 60 per cent when they are walking. HR manager Evelyn is a recent convert. “Walking meets are more productive and although not appropriate for every situation, are certainly a useful tool.” she says.
Add an unexpected spark to a social occasion by organising a walking dinner party. It’s a great way to keep the evening moving, while walking off some of those excess calories at the same time. The idea is that after each course, the party moves to a different location, ideally within reasonable walking distance. It does call for a bit of pre-planning. Four changes of scene is probably the max and it’s best to choose dishes that can be prepared in advance and quickly heated up when guests arrive. It’s also a good idea to have a rough timetable, or you could end up eating your main course at midnight. Themed evenings can work well, or you could add a twist by asking people to solve a clue en route to the next destination.
Seek out the urban jungle
Walking doesn’t have to take place in the green and pleasant surroundings of the countryside. The streets of our towns and cities also offer great opportunities to get outside and learn something new. Crumbs City Trails offer a fun way for families to enjoy the urban environment. Simply download the app and the trail will take you on a walking route that’s scattered with clues and questions to help you find out more about the history and culture of the area. Street Wisdom is another organisation set up to help us see our streets in a new light. Free, three hour workshops are built around the concept that inspiration is often right underneath our noses. A ‘street guide’ kicks off the process by helping you tune into your senses, before sending you off on a street quest where you ask yourself questions and see what answers the environment presents you with. The combination of walking and wondering has helped people like Dave find answers to difficult questions. “I was delighted at how quickly and simply I was able to work through something I’d been grappling with… it’s a lovely opportunity to slow down and take time to think,” he says.
If you’re the kind of person who dreads having make conversation with people you don’t know, while simultaneously balancing a glass of wine and a plate of nibbles, net-walking could be for you. The idea is simple. You join a group of like-minded individuals for an organised walk which provides the time and space to chat, explore new ideas and build business relationships. It’s a concept which has been growing in popularity, with net-walks now being organised everywhere from the Yorkshire Dales to the canal towpaths of Hertfordshire. Workplace mediator and coach Gill Rouse, organiser of a well-established group, believes it’s the perfect antidote to the traditional greasy breakfast meeting. “It’s a relaxed and informal way of networking,” she says. “Chatting with friends while walking through beautiful countryside beats those ‘creeping death’ 60-second speeches hand-down”
Borrow a Dog
Part-time ownership of a four-legged friend is now officially a thing, thanks to the people at www.borrowmydoggy.com. The company was set up to put dog owners in touch with dog-lovers who don’t have the capacity to take on pet-ownership full time, but have a mutt-shaped hole in their lives. Members search for a suitable match, and once everyone has had the chance to get acquainted, borrowers can literally take the lead. Borrower Elizabeth was matched with owner Gemma and her Jackapoo Bibi. “I benefit both physically and mentally,” she says. “I get good exercise from all the walking and it’s so relaxing walking with a dog.” Members can opt for public and third party liability insurance for added reassurance. Just make sure you don’t borrow a Great Dane if you’re a pint-sized person and not up to being dragged round the park.
- Walking for Health has some great tips and advice.
- Just has some advice on exercise and staying active in later life.
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