We love May - the bluebells are out, the lambs are gambolling and it’s National Walking Month! Walking is one of the best forms of exercise you can do; it’s good for your heart, lungs and blood pressure, helps control your weight, reduces the risk of Type II diabetes and some forms of cancer, increases your flexibility and boosts your immune system. And those are just the physical benefits! Walking is good for your mental health in terms of combating depression and anxiety, as well as increasing self-esteem. No wonder England’s Chief Medical Officer said if walking was a form of medication, it would be a ‘wonder drug’!*
Yet, according to research published in medical journal The Lancet in 2012, just one third of people in the UK achieve the recommended levels of walking - 150 minutes per week for adults and 60 minutes per day for children. If you’re keen to walk your way to better health but need some motivation, here are our seven ‘steps’ to put the sparkle in your shoes!
1. Safety in numbers
As with taking up any new activity, getting started can be daunting. Walking with friends or in a group offers not only the health benefits but also social contact and that vital encouragement when it might seem easier to stay on the sofa. Ramblers UK runs hundreds of walks each week, from short city strolls to long walks in the countryside. The organisation also supports walking networks such as Walking for Health and Let’s Walk Cymru - just visit the website, enter your postcode and team up with like-minded people!
2. These (school) shoes are made for walking
According to Living Streets, 70% of today’s parents walked to school, yet fewer than half of children do so now. Living Streets formed in 1929 (one of its early campaigns was for Britain’s first zebra crossing!) and launched National Walking Month to encourage people of all generations to walk more and to create a pleasant environment in which to walk safely. The awareness month includes Walk to School Week (May 15-19), which is a great way of taking small steps towards better health for all the family. Deciding to ditch the car altogether and walk to and from school every day might be a commitment too far, but pledging to walk once or twice a week can make a big difference - not only to your health but to the local environment as well.
3. It’s not a walk, it’s an adventure
All parents know that the first rule of ‘getting the kids outside’ is to never, ever, say you’re going for a walk. Tell them you’re going on a bear hunt, invading a castle or there’s an ice cream van right around the next corner… anything but the ‘W’ word! Don’t let the rain or the dark put you off either - pull on those wellies and have a puddle jumping competition or give everyone a mini torch and go hunting for bats and badgers. Organisations like the National Trust run lots of family activities, including nocturnal bat walks, and you don’t have to be a member to join in.
4. Meet on the street
Living Streets has a compiled the ‘Try 20’, a clever list of tips to get you started in National Walking Month. Among the bright ideas is a ‘walking meeting’ - just gather your team together and talk while you walk! The change of scenery can bring a new perspective, while fresh air works wonders for energy levels and productivity. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said ?"All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking”, and it’s said that Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg regularly held meetings on foot!
5. Find your focus
Another of Living Street’s Try 20 is to get snap happy. Take your camera or smartphone out with you and you’ll be amazed how much distance you cover in search of that perfect shot. Pop to the park to see what’s in bloom, stroll around your local town centre in search of quirky features or visit the same spot at different times of the day and capture the scene as the light changes - you’ll be amazed at the small details you start to notice as you stroll!
6. Map out your moves
Half the fun of a good walk can be mapping out where to go but, if you don’t know your compass bearings from your contour lines, it could be time to learn some new skills! A beginner’s navigation course can be great fun with the right instructor and a like-minded group, while Ordnance Survey has teamed up with adventurer Steve Backshall to create a series of online map reading guides to point you, quite literally, in the right direction. After a spot of practise on your own doorstep, you’ll be heading for the Cairngorms before you know it!
7. Join the world’s biggest treasure hunt
We’re not talking about uncovering a chest of gold coins, unfortunately, but look hard enough and you might find hidden goodies in one of the world’s two million geocaches! It’s treasure hunting for the digital age; you just need a GPS device or phone and a free Geocaching.com account. Just choose a cache near you, enter the coordinates into your GPS, follow your device towards the right spot and then use your eyes, nose and other senses to find it. Each geocache has a log book for you to fill in, as well as little trinkets that you are welcome to take - on the condition you replace it with treasure of your own. When home, don’t forget to record your find online before choosing your next adventure!