If you’re trying to live a healthier life, one thing you won’t be short of is advice.
The web and the traditional media pump out a constant stream of health scares, fad diets, and new exercise regimes that promise miraculous results with minimum effort. No wonder some people get disillusioned or overwhelmed and simply give up.
That’s a shame, because in fact there are some simple things that most people can do to improve their physical and mental wellbeing. Unlike the latest superfood or trendy workout, they’re unlikely to spawn a series of blogs or books, but they’ll keep on working for as long as you do them. The simplest one of all is arguably the most effective: walking. (No doubt you’d already guessed that that one is our favourite…)
The NHS recommends that adults aged 19-64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week, and says that even a 10-minute walk every day will benefit your health in many ways.
Here are just some of those benefits:
Increased cardiovascular and pulmonary (heart and lung) fitness
Reduced risk of heart disease and stroke improved management of conditions such as hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, joint and muscular pain or stiffness, and diabetes
Stronger bones and improved balance
Increased muscle strength and endurance
Reduced body fat
And bear in mind that all of those things don’t just improve your life expectancy. Many of them are also linked to a reduced risk of picking up injuries, improved sleep, and a whole host of other things that add life to your years as well as years to your life.
Healthy body, healthy mind
So walking has many physical benefits – but that’s just the start. Most experts believe that it’s also a great workout for your mind.
Some of these benefits are linked, of course. It’s not surprising if getting fitter and losing some flab makes you feel better about yourself. But it goes much further. Research suggests that walking encourages your brain to work in a way that’s very conducive to creativity and problem-solving, for example. There are many examples of writers, artists and thinkers – from Aristotle to Dickens – who used walking to get the most from their brains.
And let’s not forget all the indirect benefits. For example, walking is a great way to socialise and make new friends. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine any activity better suited – try having a conversation while you’re swimming with someone. Humans are social animals, and making connections with others is deep-seated need in all of us. So it’s not surprising that social activity is a hugely important part of our overall physical and mental health.
Walking is also great way to get out and connect with the world around you. These days, many of us spend so much of our time ‘plugged in’ – to work, the internet or entertainment – that we rarely take the time to look up and appreciate our surroundings. A walk might take you to parts of your local area that you otherwise wouldn’t know, and make you feel much more part of your local community.
Above all – it’s fun! Your body is designed to move, and walking is a great way to give it some of the physical activity it needs.
Whether you’ve only just got the walking bug or you’re a dedicated hiker who’s looking for your next challenge, our wide range of guided walking holidays is sure to include a trip that will excite your imagination. Take a look here. The world's more beautiful on foot.
PS All of these issues and more are explored in a recent book, ‘In Praise of Walking’, by the Irish academic Shane O’Mara. Click here to find out more.