Because you can! Humans are the primates, we’re the specialist apes who, at some stage in their evolution, found advantages in rising up from all fours like chimps and gorillas and walked permanently on their hind legs (bipedalism). So it’s our natural way of moving – once we’ve learnt to do it! Think how long it takes a baby to develop the muscles and learn to balance! Now you don’t even have to think about it; it’s easy; you just do it!
So don’t waste this amazing advantage that we daily take for granted.
Unlike so many forms of exercise available in our society, it’s cheap, if not free! All you need is a comfy pair of shoes or trainers (until you start getting seriously hooked). It doesn’t require any planning, you just leave your house and off you go. Leave the car behind. It doesn’t matter in which direction you set out, whatever takes your fancy. The world is not so much your oyster, more the endless series of roads, lanes, tracks and paths that spread out from your front door, all waiting to be explored.
Physical Health benefits
Because it’s so natural, walking is amazingly good for your physical health. Most walking provides aerobic exercise: in other words you breathe in enough air to create the energy needed for the exercise. This is amazingly good for your muscles and joints, particularly in your legs but elsewhere in your body too (think of the exercise from swinging those arms.) But walking up hills or even striding along fast on the flat, you can start panting. That’s anaerobic exercise and it makes your heart and lungs work too, which is so important to keep these organs fit into older years.
Walking is an activity that’s never too late to start and which you can continue to enjoy into old age.
Provided you build up your exercise gradually and don’t overdo it, walking is a low stress activity. If you’re sensible, stay within your capabilities and watch out you don’t trip over, you’re unlikely to do any damage to yourself. Your body will tell you when it’s had enough. So turn for home while you are still feeling confident and moving with ease!
Mental Health benefits
But walking also supports our mental health. It gets us out the house and away from TV and computer screens (I will allow you to carry your mobile phone!). It provides a change of scene in our daily routine; it’s a break as welcome as a cup of coffee. Many people find walking gives them time to think; ideas and solutions to problems are encouraged to emerge. It’s not surprising that we pace the room when we are explaining something really important, even on the telephone. An ancient Greek philosopher said over 2000 years ago about a conundrum “It is solved by walking.” Today we would say that walking gives your unconscious brain time to resolve everyday issues. You might respond “But I do walk! I walk to work, I walk to the shops or I walk to the pub.” That’s valuable, but your mind is always on your errand or running ahead to your destination; you need to let it freewheel.
Lift your spirits
Walking is also good for your soul. In a frenetic world it slows your life down to a more natural rhythm. You become aware of your environment and your place in it. It provides perspective to your existence. You notice the wind on your face and the changing ground under your feet. You start to look around at the townscape or the countryside. Aspects that you’ve perhaps overlooked before, you now have time to appreciate. Because you can walk just about anywhere (but not on water or over cliffs!) you take account of the lie of the land, the direction you’re headed, the landmarks and signs you pass, perhaps the weather or an arresting view. Sometimes even a short walk can return you refreshed in mind, body and spirit.
I am recommending walking for the sake of walking, not as a means to an end but as an end in itself!
You might surprise yourself by what you see or what comes into your mind on a country walk. Some people find themselves fascinated by the geology or shape of the land, the geography or history of areas they pass through. For others it’s the natural environment, taking photographs or people watching! The range of options is immense and the choice is yours; there’s no pressure! Your time spent out is your own, so turn your phone off too!
You will never (need) walk alone.
Even better is to walk with a friend: walking and talking that’s where the benefits really mount up. You agree the route together; the miles slip away; topics of conversation flow easily in the open air; you suddenly find you’ve benefited from more exercise almost seamlessly and you’ve enjoyed the company too.
If you’re looking for like-minded people to share your walks, why not join a walking or rambling club? For about the cost of an hour at an exercise class or entry to a swimming pool, your annual membership fee will give you access to regular, organised walks of varying lengths, from a few miles to overseas expeditions! Clubs like Evesham Rambling Club will introduce you to a friendly and eclectic band, who meet up for regular walks. The walk leaders will show you routes, and perhaps pubs, not far from home you probably didn’t know existed.
Having said walking is cheap, this is probably the right moment to invest in a comfortable pair of walking boots, a waterproof jacket and a rucksack suitable for carrying a spare sweater, flask and “emergency rations” i.e. your favourite snack.
Over 1000 years ago St Augustine said “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” So walk, and turn another page in your life.