On walking

The joys of walking

Many of the posts in this blog describe walks. Here I want to reflect on the many joys - or benefits - of walking. Personally, I started walking again as an aid to improved fitness (see below), but I now see it primarily as a source of joyous experiences and as a stimulus to learning new things.

Health


The simple physical act of walking is good for your heart. Walking consumes calories so walking can help you lose weight. Walking improves muscle tone and balance, which are increasingly important as you get older. It therefore helps to maintain mobility into old age. The clear and obvious health benefits give rise to the step counting approach.

Mood

Along with other forms of physical exercise, walking helps to produce an increase in serotonin and improves mood, countering depression and negativity.

Solitude and reflection

Going for a walk by yourself can be an excellent way to clear your head of problems and concerns, to think actively or to allow the unconscious mind to process information and reach or crystallise a decision.

Company

A walk is also a good way to socialise, allowing deep conversations with people you already know or facilitating the development of relationships with people you know less well. Or, of course, of meeting new people if you enjoy going walking in an organised group.

Enjoying nature

Depending on your interests you might enjoy seeing birds, flowers and plants, butterflies, trees, insects, animals, crops - or all of these.

Landscape and seascape

I suppose landscape is where geology meets the man-made environment. A great view is one of the supreme pleasures of walking.

Enjoying the built environment

But beyond nature and landscape, there is the whole human world of stimulation when out walking: buildings and monuments, local history, canals, historical survivals, settlements patterns ....

Learning


To enjoy the environment as you pass through it you need to keep your eyes open and learn to notice and then identify what you are seeing. The key to this joy is open eyes and an enquiring mind. When you can't identify, or simply want to find out more about, what you are seeing walking is a great stimulus to research and reading.

Really getting to know places

This applies both to your home area and to places you are visiting, especially on holiday. Walking enables you to understand spatial relationships, distance and topography at a human pace and in a human scale.

Achievement

Climbing a steep hill, walking further than you have done before, completing a long distance path, feeling fitter and more active, seeing a new bird or butterfly or a rare orchid, just getting out of the house. There are all sorts of ways in which walking can promote a feeling of achievement.


What makes for a good walk

This is a brief attempt to distil the features that make one walk better than another.

Variety

Different types of countryside, terrain, views. Unless of course the terrain is so magnificent that variety would only detract.

Tracks

Much more enjoyable to walk on than fields or tarmac.

Wildlife

Interesting, varied, numerous, rare ..... birds, plants, butterflies, animals.

Height

Either being up high - walking along a ridge perhaps - or a walk which involves a change of levels. The views are more interesting, and you can see the same things from different perspectives. And there is more effort and sense of achievement.

Sights

Natural (lakes, rock formations, valleys etc) or man-made (stately homes, churches, follies etc), especially where they act as landmarks which can be seen from different points in the walk.

Novelty

Different from what you usually do or from what is characteristic of where you live. Breaking new ground in terms of distance, difficulty, climate etc

Linkage

Although novelty is good, it is also good when a walk allows you to build on past experience and allows you to feel a deeper knowledge of an area or subject.

My initial thoughts on walking (April 2007)

I started walking again a bit over 3 years ago. I used to walk before my kids came along and I also played a lot of squash. I realised that I had reached my early 50s and acquired a ridiculously sedentary lifestyle. I work as a self-employed management consultant and a busy work life, coupled with family obligations, seemed to have left no time for any physical activity, except gardening. So we decided to start walking again. We bought maps and walk books from our local WH Smith's and made a new year's resolution to get into habit of going for a weekly walk.

Unlike most new year resolutions this one was kept. The weather on the second Sunday in January was raining, just like it had been the previous week, but we had a strong sense that if we didn't go out on the second opportunity we never would. So we gritted our teeth and went on a short, fairly suburban walk in the wind and rain and mud - and felt really exhilarated, with a strong sense of a new beginning.

For the rest of that first year, we did some sort of walk most weekends and completed 29 over the course of the year. All from our little stock of books, and all fairly local. They ranged in length up to 6½ miles, although most were between 4 and 5.

In the classic way in which interests can gradually deepen, we’ve kept going with our weekly walks and added walking to the list of things we do on holiday. We have developed a very nice model for spring and autumn holidays in France and Italy involving a walk in the morning followed by a nice lunch and some sight-seeing in the afternoon. Not every day, but probably three times in the course of a week’s holiday.

The most recent developments have been that I’ve decided to only work three days a week. This has been a wonderfully liberating decision – and I now go for a walk on one of “my” days, as well as at the weekend. And secondly we have developed a new policy of trying to fit in a walk whenever we go to visit family or friends, or are in another part of the country for some other reason.