• Rob

Why walk?

This is a question that I get asked, in some way or another, on an almost weekly basis.

The question comes from my partner, my boss, my colleagues, my friends and my family. They don’t often ask it in such a direct way as the title of this blog does, but the undertone of the question is often there in conversations that we have.

The question is probably asked (explicitly or not) because I don’t tend to stay in one place for too long. If I’m at work, I get up every 45 minutes or so and take a stroll. If I’m at home with my partner and she is working, I will often suggest that we go for what I call a pootle. At my Dad’s house and we’re having a catch up in the kitchen, I’ll often pace around; sometimes on the spot, sometimes not. As Shakira once sang, “Wherever, whenever”.

Now, this might be a result of a restless mind. Perhaps that’s correct. It might be an obsessive need. Not sure about that one. Or, it might be something else entirely.

When I took the time to reflect on this, naturally whilst I was walking, I came up with a fairly substantial list of why I enjoy walking as much as I do.

It’s free. With the exception of clothes and shoes, walking is a free activity. You don’t even need to pay to travel anywhere. Simply take a step outside your front door and you can be on your way. As someone who is notoriously careful with their money (or tight as my friends say…) this is a huge incentive for me. Joking aside, the fact that walking is free, especially in austere times such as those we currently find ourselves in, is a boon to those who want to enjoy the benefits of walking whilst perhaps being in a financially uncertain situation.

The barrier to entry is (almost) zero; by this, I mean the physical and mental barriers that exist for many activities do not exist for walking. You can walk on your own, you can walk as part of a group, you can take a few tentative steps around the place that you live, or you can embark on a 100km weekend walk. The scale and variety is only limited by your imagination and the time that you have available to you. I do appreciate that for some, there are barriers to walking. You may be physically unable to walk unaided or you may have mental health issues that prohibit you from being able to enjoy walking in its many forms.

It can be as easy or as difficult as you like. A walk in your garden/your local park? A stroll to the bus stop? A mooch around the shops? Or, a full-blown yomp on Dartmoor (my patch) with a reasonably heavy rucksack. The important thing here, again, is the sheer variety of difficulty that you can put yourself into.

It gives you time to think. A few of my best ideas (and a lot of my worst) have been dreamed up whilst I am out and about. There are no screens, there are no conversations with other people (although you can if you wish) and there are few fewer distractions being forced on to you. You can, basically, just walk and think. Bliss.

The fresh air. Location permitting, you should be able to find somewhere local to you where there is the freedom to breathe in the clear, fresh air. If there’s not, I would suggest that it’s a simple hop, skip and jump to somewhere where fresh air is more freely available. As a resident of Devon, I realise I may come across as smug (!) but we are fortunate in this fine county to be within easy travelling distance of a large variety of open spaces where fresh air is a given, not a luxury. My advice? Seek these spaces out; you’ll feel a lot better for it I promise.

The new perspectives. One of the first things I do when visiting a new place, either for work or for travel, is to dump my stuff at the place I’m staying and to get out there on foot. A pet peeve of mine are buses you sometimes see where people get herded on, driven to a place of interest, have a quick 20-minute gawp and then back on the bus. I much prefer getting out there on my own two feet, exploring neighbourhoods, sights, bars and restaurants that you might otherwise be driven past. I wouldn’t say that this always results in a positive experience, but I promise you that it always ends with a memorable experience. Plus, you can always wander down an alleyway that a vehicle will find difficult if not impossible.

It can be quicker. This is most notable in cities, where traffic jams can be troublesome and infuriating. I am quite impatient when it comes to exploring, so being under my own steam is liberating for me and that feeling of smugness can occasionally appear as I see people stuck in their metal machines looking unenthused.

It’s better for the environment. Linked to the above, I am now a lot more mindful, as I think most right-minded people are, of the effects of non-human powered travel on our environment. Enough said.

I can listen to music/podcasts. Those time when I don’t need/want to think, I have my music and podcasts. Nowadays, if truth be told, it is more about the podcasts for me. There is a huge variety out there and I’m sure you will find something that interest you, makes you laugh or cry, tells you about something you didn’t previously know or, that sweet spot, all of the above.

Its sociable. Sure, you can walk on your own (that’s what I do mostly) but you can also walk with others. This could be family, friends, partners, groups, etc. The combined benefits of exercise, being outside and increased social interaction offer a triple-whammy for your mental and physical wellbeing. This is a no-brainer for me.

Healthy. The simple act of moving your body is a bonus. We are not talking about running ultra-marathons here, but I think you would be surprised about the positive impacts that walking (of all kinds) can have on your health. Give it a go and let me know how you fare.

Good for your back. I have in the past suffered from minor back problems and some simple advice I was given, apart from slouching, was to walk more. Make sure you have a relatively decent of shoes, straighten your back and walk. This worked for me and possibly will be beneficial to you too.

If you work at a screen, it’s good to give your eyes a rest. I work at a screen for 7/8 hours a day although, in truth, I wish I didn’t. I am fortunate enough that I am able to take regular breaks from my screen, so I use this time to go for a wander and give my eyes a rest. The number of people I see, on their breaks, looking at their phone or tablet, does genuinely give me cause for concern as to the health of their eyes. I make a conscious effort to rest my eyes from this activity and also try to limit TV screen time too, albeit not always successfully.

So, there you go, some ramblings about my rambling. I’m sure there are many other benefits to walking that I have not mentioned here; get in touch if you feel like I have missed something that you think may be of value to others.

Thanks for listening, I’m just off for a walk…

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