Why walking is what we all need at the moment - especially in glorious Sussex
David Bathurst shares his passion for walking and explains why it might just be what we all need in these difficult times - particularly when we are in a county as beautiful as Sussex.
“I think the reason I walk can be summed up very easily. I can’t think of any other human activity which is so straightforward and easy to do but at the same time brings so many rewards.
“Walking is so simple. It merely demands that you place one foot in front of the other, then repeat the process for as long as you desire. That is within the capability of all of us who are fortunate enough to enjoy a functioning set of limbs. It costs nothing. It does not require special techniques or fancy equipment. If you want to walk in the open air, it is just a matter of putting on comfortable clothes and footwear, opening your front door and setting off. I class myself as a technophobe: I’m not good with any technical tasks, and if cycling, say, I would struggle with a mechanical breakdown. But walking brings no such problems. It could not be less sophisticated or technically demanding.
“And the rewards are considerable.
“The first and most obvious reward is that it’s good for you. When I walk, I’m reducing my risk of stress, high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes and a number of cancers. I’m also adding years to my life expectancy. I’m now into my sixties so it’s very good to know that keeping physically active, through walking, can improve cognitive function, memory, attention and processing speed, and reduce the risk of cognitive decline or dementia. Walking is also a great calorie burner. I’ve a weakness for a number of high-calorie foods and it’s great to know that having enjoyed those I can burn them off by walking, reducing the risk of weight gain.
“But in my view the health benefits go well beyond the physical. I find walking is massively helpful to my mental well-being also. Many great authors such as Charles Dickens and Charlotte Bronte have derived huge inspiration for some of their greatest works from their time in the open air. Getting away from the distractions of modern life in clean, fresh air allows me to reflect, think and plan ahead and put worries in perspective. I can’t think of a single walk of any distance I have done which has left me feeling no better mentally for having done it. Very often good, positive ideas will come to me while out walking. Sometimes I may be moved to ask myself “Where did that idea come from?” Walking provides the space into which such ideas can flow.
“The physical and mental health benefits apply to any walk of any description. It gets better if you choose to, as I try to, walk through green spaces or the countryside. I’ve been fortunate enough to experience walking in Great Britain at its finest, having walked all our National Trails from end to end, walked the entire south coast of England, and scaled all the major Lakeland peaks. But you don’t need to do any of that in order to develop a love for the great outdoors through walking. Wherever you live, a walk in a green space or along countryside footpaths will bring you face to face with many of the wonders of nature: picturesque and often spectacular landscapes and viewpoints; varying types of trees, plants, shrubs and flowers; birds with their distinctive songs; animals and insects; and historic or even prehistoric man-made constructions. Recent curbs on outdoor activity have made me take a particular interest in and appreciate the footpaths in my locality and identify features I might well otherwise have missed.
“Lastly, there’s the sense of achievement that a walking challenge can bring. When I turned 60 I set myself the task of walking my new age, doing 60 miles in 24 hours. And I did it. While you need to be careful and not overdo it, it can be immensely satisfying to set yourself a walking challenge and complete it – particularly if a charity or charities will benefit.
"Forgive the cliché – it really is win win. I’m already looking forward to my next walk!