Walking has been described as the world’s most rewarding yet easiest exercise – you just put one foot in front of the other. It keeps you in great shape, is good for the heart and lungs, boosts your immune system and even uplifts your spirits, especially if you can persuade family and friends to join in. Here’s how…
Research shows that the risk of heart attack and coronary disease can be halved by regular walking; it also lowers blood pressure, cuts the risk of strokes by 40% and hip fracture by half. A brisk 20-minute walk can cut harmful fats in the bloodstream by a quarter. You will also sleep better – one hour longer on average – and reduce your susceptibility to depression thanks to both exposure to natural light and the release of serotonin, a feel-good chemical in your brain, which according to experts trigger a sense of well-being.
Now for the really important bit: walking is excellent in the battle of the bulge. A four-hour walk in flattish country burns around 860 calories, while a seven-hour hike in the hills will likely more than double that, using up about 2,000 calories. Remember to consume about two-thirds of those lost calories during your walk, via lunch and snacks, to give you the energy to keep going.
Now you need ideas for where to go, whether as part of an organised walking group or on your own…
Join a guided walk Organised walks are a great way to get started.
• Consider hooking up with the Ramblers: there’s a walk-finder on its website (www.ramblers.org.uk) listing hundreds of guided hikes weekly, and you’re welcome to try a couple before joining your local group.
• You could also tap into one of 500 “Walking for Health” groups across the UK. This is a government-backed initiative that encourages people to stride out for fitness – details and contacts at www.whi.org.uk.
• In the UK, most of our National Parks (www.nationalparks.gov.uk) and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (www.aonb.org.uk) also organise guided walks, and many also have routes to download and follow independently. The National Trust (www.nationaltrust.org.uk) also runs a walks programme.
Do it independently Stride out on your own with an easy-to follow route.
• The monthly magazines for walkers, Country Walking (for shorter rambles) and Trail (for tougher, upland hikes) both feature detailed routes, also available online free or for a fee from websites such as Outdoors Magic (www.outdoorsmagic.com) or Live for the Outdoors (www.livefortheoutdoors.com).
• Or try one of the many guidebooks published by the AA (www.theaa.com/shop), Sigma (www.sigmapress.co.uk) and Cicerone (www.cicerone.co.uk). The latter also publishes excellent guides to European walking regions, as does Sunflower (www.sunflowerbooks.co.uk). Perhaps the best investment of all is to purchase your local Ordnance Survey Explorer map (www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk), designed expressly for walkers and ripe with the promise of do-it-yourself rambles right on your doorstep.
Let’s suppose you’re an occasional rambler, doing six miles every other week. To sharpen your fitness, you need to step up to three short, brisk walks weekly – aim to cover two miles in 30 minutes. To feel the benefit, you need to raise your heart rate and feel slightly out of breath.
After the first month, progress the exercise by including some hills and moving faster, walking 45 minutes and building up a sweat. By week nine, aim for one brisk daily walk – it could just be to the station, or round the park in your lunch hour. Regular walks, rather than occasional rambles, are the key to upping your fitness. And it beats a slog in an expensive gym any day.
Have you recently discovered walking or are you an experienced hill walker? Whatever your level of experience we’d love to hear your comments – just leave them below or become our fan on Facebook.