Walking is one of the the most natural physical activities. Doing it regularly it reduces the risk of hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, breast and colon cancer, depression and risk of falls. Also, regular walking improves bone and functional health, as well as it is fundamental to energy balance and weight control.
So, you want to walk more – but where to start?
- Know your capabilities
Are you the one who always suggest to sit down after just half an hour strolling with your friends? If so, maybe you have to start small then and increase your walking distance in time. But if you can ramble around for hours, consider to challenge yourself and go for a long countryside walk. However, if you are unsure of your capabilities, just start with easy walks in urban areas, so you can cut short if you get tired. For example, try to walk half way home from work or next time you meet your friends, suggest to have a walk around a park and see how you feel.
- Try a guided walk
There are thousands of routes set up already, and you can find the ones that suits you best. If you would like to go on a guided walk (so you don’t have to worry about getting lost or following a map) I suggest to check out the Meet Up website. There you can find all sorts of walking: social or silence, urban or country, short or long distance, gentle or Nordic with poles, also, walks for families, people with dogs or for certain age group. Different walks take place on different days so you can try a few types of walks to decide which one you prefer. Most walks are free and based on donations.
Another way to go on a guided walk is to visit Ramblers website. You can choose one of many group walks near you and try it for free. If you enjoy it, you can then become a member (for £34.50/year) and enjoy as many guided walks as you like, as well as get access to hundreds of set up routes across the UK and walk on your own.
One more website for guided walks I want to mention is Walking for Health where you can find over 1,800 free, short walks across the country.
- Be your own guide
If you have decided to walk on your own or with your friends and follow the map yourself, you will have a one more challenge – to choose a route from literally thousands of routes across the UK. To do so, first you have to decide whether you want to walk in a countryside or an urban area and how long your route should be.
If you have chosen a country walk, make sure that there is an easy access (e.g. by train/coach/bus/car) from your city or town and don’t forget to add those few extra miles to your day mileage which you are going to walk from and to the station or a car park. Also, keep in mind that public transport has different schedules during the week and on weekends. It can be especially tricky on Sundays in small towns and villages – once, after walking a whole day, I had to wait more than 2 hours for a train in a dark and cold – trust me, that’s not what you want to experience on your first long walk! (Read my walking diary here)
Also, if you choose a long countryside walk, I advise you to buy your train tickets in advance and save quite a lot of money. However, then you have to calculate approximate time when you are going to finish your walk. On average people walk 3mi/h but you have to consider terrain you are going to walk (are there any hills on your route?), lunch break or quick stops to take a picture or to rest. Lastly, if you walk in a countryside, there is a good chance to come across very few to none pubs on your way – are you okay to pee in bushes?
If you have chosen an urban walk, that’s completely different story. You don’t have to worry about transportation, bulls in a field or a place to eat. Choose a route which leads through the green areas or a proper city walk to explore interesting buildings and ‘hidden’ spots.
- Choose a set up route
Choose a route from a walking guide books: check out Cicerone books for long trails, or type in “City walks” or “Hidden walks” or “Country walks” on Amazon for shorter routes. Also, once again I would like to suggest you to visit Ramblers website where you can find a good amount of short walks (up to 3 miles). For longer ones you have to be a member.
If you live near one of the 15 National Parks in the UK, you can find some walking routes here. If you are considering a very long walk which you can walk in sections too, visit the National Trails website.
After all, you can just have a walk in your local park or woods, or along a canal or a river. For example, it takes about an hour to walk from the Little Venice to Camden along the Regent’s canal in London (2.5mi).
- Get ready for your first long(ish) walk
Choose comfortable clothes and non-slip shoes with cushioning. It is better to wear a few layers of clothes so you can take some off if you feel warm. Never wear new shoes for your long walk as you may end up going home with blisters just after a couple of miles. And always have some plasters with you – not just for blisters but for little scratches as well. It is a good idea to have some sort of antiseptic wipes or a spray too.
If it is a summer times, take a hat with you and apply some sunscreen on your skin. Don’t forget to carry a bottle of water with you to keep hydrated (even in a colder season) as well as some healthy snacks to keep your energy level and your blood sugar stabile. If you are not planning to stop at a pub or a café to eat, pack your own lunch. If you are going for a few hours walk, make sure you follow a food hygiene rules and keep your food cool in an insulated lunch bag.
Make sure your phone is fully charged on a walking day and take an external/portable battery charger, if you have one. You may will take pictures or look on a google map where you are, or where is the nearest pub or a train station, so your phone battery will drain rapidly.
Please share your walking tips and tricks or tell where you are planning to walk next!