I’ve been thinking a lot about walking this week. This is mainly because I am in the planning stages of 3 adventures all of which involve walking a long way and require that we get some training in.
First up is a trek in Nepal which has been deferred from May 2020 to May 2021. A group of 7 friends are planning to walk to Lo Manthang in Western Nepal, bordering Tibet. A hidden kingdom closed to outsiders until 1992 it has been little visited by Europeans – in fact Wiki suggests that there are fewer than 2000 foreign visitors per year…rather a lot fewer in 2020 of course!
After that, we have a gentler week’s walking planned with two very good friends, when we set off to do the first week of the GR10 which crosses the Pyrenees from the Atlantic at Hendaye to the Med at Banyuls. The whole trek takes about 8 weeks but we have limited time together, so the first stage is all we can manage this time – from Hendaye to St Jean Pied de Port in Mid-June.
Then we have the most important of the three trips when I lead a group of inexperienced long-distance walkers across the Hadrian’s Wall path from Wallsend to Bowness on Solway in August. Most of our 10 participants have some connection with Inflammatory Bowel Disease, either being ill themselves, having had stoma surgery or being supporters of the charity Purple Wings, for whom we are fundraising. It’s going to be quite a challenge for all who are walking, but there are additional challenges for those with less than a complete bowel, who wear a stoma bag and who have been very physically depleted. If anyone wants to donate to our fund, this is the link – https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/SueLENNON2 where your offering will be gratefully received!
I guess from all this activity, you probably figured that we love walking. We like a challenge too, the bigger the better, but to be honest, a 20 minute walk round the block is equally enjoyable and just as good for you. I’d encourage everyone to do it, as often as possible, ‘walk somewhere green!’
But why is it such a brilliant activity?
Well firstly it is cheap. You need no special equipment for an everyday walk, just your normal stuff and a decent waterproof if you live in the UK! Of course, if you are going for a ‘Sue style’ challenge you will need extra gear and a kindly bank manager!
While many people would never consider or be able to take up running, most could contemplate going for a walk and it alone can help people meet their fitness and weight loss goals. Also, compared to running, walking is a better exercise choice for people who wouldn’t be able to run safely, for example, those with knee, ankle and back problems or for people who are overweight. A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that those who stuck to a walking program showed significant improvements in blood pressure and heart health, reduction of body fat and body weight, reduced cholesterol and better blood sugars, and increased measures of endurance. The Arthritis Foundation says it also improves circulation, strengthens bones, increases life expectancy, helps manage pain and joint mobility and, based on a study from the University of Virginia Health System in Charlottesville, suggests that those who walk more than a quarter of a mile per day cut the incidence of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease by half!!
But there’s even more…
The mental health benefits of walking are further convincing. One Stanford University study found that walking increases creative output by an average of 60 percent. According to the study, “walking opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity.” It is also a proven mood booster, reducing anxiety, increasing in joviality, vigor, attentiveness and self-confidence versus the same time spent sitting. Walking in nature, specifically, was found to reduce ruminating over negative experiences, which increases activity in the brain associated with negative emotions and raises risk of depression. It has also been shown to improve memory and prevent the deterioration of brain tissue as we age. Plus, psychologists studying how exercise relieves anxiety and depression also suggest that a 10-minute walk may be just as good as a 45-minute workout when it comes to relieving the symptoms of anxiety.
I know all these things. I feel them both physically and emotionally. My body moves freely, my mind is settled – walking in nature is mindful and there is so much to appreciate, to be grateful for. I love walking. And I especially love walking with my best friend (and husband) Stephen. It is good for ‘us’. There are lots of google hits if you look for ‘benefits of walking with your partner’ – but I don’t need to be told. The benefits are very real. It’s a great way to talk through things when you are walking side by side, whether that is celebrating what is going well, or seeking solutions to problems, just ‘being’, or planning the next walking challenge!
What about the disabled community?
It seems to me that all of these health benefits can be enjoyed by anyone. If you are in a wheelchair, whether you self-propel, are all electric or have a push volunteer, to be out in the elements, to breathe fresh air, to take in all that is to be experienced and use all of your senses will still contribute to an emotional lift. If you can self-propel and push a just bit harder than usual, then your joints and bones, blood-pressure and heart will benefit too! Its worth me mentioning here Miles Without Styles. I mainly know about The Lake District link which you can see here – though there are similar walks for those who are differently mobile in other National Parks too. https://www.lakedistrict.gov.uk/visiting/things-to-do/walking/mileswithoutstiles
But can you get addicted?
Well when you consider that we walk almost every day (and really miss it if we have had to skip a day for some reason) AND seek opportunities to walk far and high whenever affordable, then yes, I guess you could say it is, a bit. But hey, there are way worse things to be addicted to! Go on – get out there. Seaside, mountains, lakes or meadows, they’re all miles better than the gym! Perhaps we will see you at Walkers Anonymous one day?