Who doesn’t feel better after a bracing walk has blown the cobwebs away on a windy day? A morning walk can transform us from sleepy to smiley. A strenuous mountain hike leaves you exhausted, but uplifted, and a relaxing stroll in the park on a winter’s afternoon brings a deep sense of peace.
And of course we all know it’s good for our hearts and muscles, too.
“Walking is a fantastic way for women to keep active and maintain a healthy heart no matter what age we are,” says Vanessa Smith, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation.
“Being active in later life reduces the risk of developing heart and circulatory diseases. It can also help lower your blood pressure and reduce your cholesterol. For long-term benefits, include exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle, stopping smoking and eating a balanced diet.”
For optimum fitness, we can’t just amble along. Research from the London School of Economics found that people over 50, and women of all ages, who regularly walked briskly for more than 30 minutes at a time, had a lower body mass index (BMI) and smaller waists than those who say they favour other forms of exercise, including gym workouts, cycling and swimming. However we have to keep it up. No turning back when it starts to rain or our walking friend cancels.
Getting out for a walk has also been shown to shake off low mood, with active people having up to 30% reduced risk of becoming depressed. Staying active can also help in recovery from depression.
And the mental benefits don’t stop there –– it can also help fuel creative thinking. Neuroscientist Shane O’Mara, author of In Praise of Walking, suggests that our brains work better when we are on the hoof. One possible theory is that creativity is stimulated by walking because the activity requires the simultaneous use of multiple parts of the brain. Apple supremo Steve Jobs was a fan of walking meetings, and many famous authors such as Ernest Hemingway and J. K. Rowling have found hiking a remedy for writer’s block. Is walking the ultimate panacea?
We can enjoy our local area or seek walking adventures further afield. The National Trust promises to lead you on walks to “ancient woods, dramatic clifftops, wild parklands, trails and landscaped gardens.” Their selection of wonderful Welsh Walks include everything from gentle strolls on the Llyn Peninsula to the more challenging Peaks of Snowdonia.
Television presenter and outdoor enthusiast Julia Bradbury has dedicated her career to sharing beautiful walks from around the world. “I am passionate about the benefits of getting outdoors. Everyone can enjoy my free online resource, with a dedicated section for people with disabilities. Walking should be easy and accessible for all and walking gear doesn’t need to be expensive.”