May marks National Walking Month – an annual campaign to promote the benefits of walking. Free to get involved with and suitable for any age, we look at how you can get out and explore using your own two feet to improve your health and wellbeing.

Of all the types of exercise someone could take up, it is perhaps walking that is the most accessible to all regardless of your current level of fitness or income. It’s free, suitable for any age and can be done almost anywhere – walking is the ‘no excuses’ exercise. Here are some of the whys and hows of building this great exercise into your life.

Improve your health
Walking helps give your leg muscles and lungs a work out; reduces stress; helps you sleep; burns excess calories; and reduces your risk of osteoporosis, cancer, depression and Type 2 diabetes. A simple activity that does so much to help – it sounds so good it should be prescribed.

The NHS states that even a brisk 10-minute daily walk has many health benefits, counting towards your recommended 150 minutes of weekly exercise.

A brisk pace is around 3 miles an hour. An easy way to measure this if you’re relatively fit is that you should still be able to talk, but not sing a song. Otherwise, the free NHS Active 10 app handily tells you when you’re walking fast enough and suggests ways to fit in more brisk walking too.

Particularly through the late spring and summer, walking outside will also top-up your levels of Vitamin D which is good for your bone health and your immune system.

Be social or enjoy solitude
Walking can be a chance to chat with your family and friends, and is a great way to make new friends too! Nordic walking classes, a Walking for Health walk, or a walking group such as the Ramblers (formerly the Ramblers Association) are ideal if you don’t have anyone to walk with.

On the flip side, you may prefer to use walks as a chance to escape and make some time to yourself. You could listen to music which can help you get into a rhythm and walk faster or just enjoy the sound and solitude of nature.

If you are concerned about wearing headphones while you walk, look at AfterShokz Bone Conduction Headphones. These sit on bones on the sides of your head but not in your ears, meaning you can still hear traffic – a great bit of kit.

Raise money for a good cause
For National Walking Month, the British Heart Foundation is promoting the ‘Just Walk’ initiative to encourage you to raise money in an organised walk. Tying in with this is their Walk to School Week from the 16th to the 20th May, where they ask teachers, parents and children to put their best foot forward and walk to school each day for that week. You never know, you and your children might like it so much that it becomes a regular occurrence.

How to build walking into your life
You can either set aside time for walking or just build it into your daily routine and pre-existing journeys. Could you get the family out for an after-dinner walk or take a weekend ramble that ends at a pub or restaurant? However you plan to do it, always remember these pieces of advice before you start:

• Wear supportive, suitable footwear. If you are walking to work, you could take a smarter pair of shoes with you to change into.
• Stay hydrated. Always take a drink with you if you’re planning to walk for more than 20 minutes or it’s hot.
• Always consider the terrain and the weather, especially if you’re heading off the beaten track. Do you need warm and/or waterproof clothing, headgear and footwear? Do you have snacks, drinks, a first aid kit and a charged mobile phone?

An internet search will return innumerable resources to help you both start and stick with your walking, not just for May but throughout the year.

Alison Runham:

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