Category Archives: health

Two feet good…the joy of wandering

Every month has its designation and now that we’re in the month of May its National Walking Month. Any initiative or campaign to encourage more people to walk is a good thing in my book.

For some people walking has an image problem. Think walking, think hikers, with all the latest kit, striding off into the countryside. We shouldn’t forget that its the people that have rambled the land for generations that helped open up our green and pleasant land for everyone and the mass trespass to Kinder Scout in the Peak District ultimately led to our network of wonderful National Parks.

I like to think of walking as the stuff of life. If I don’t have a daily wander it doesn’t feel like I’ve connected with the world around me. Yes you can see it in the narrow confine of how many steps that you’ve walked today but there is something plain nice about walking the streets of the place that you work or live.

Back at the start of April I began a new job. One of the first things that I did was to work out a few walking routes of different lengths. And as part of this detective work there was the real bonus of a footpath neighbouring the railway, nearby the office, which is a nature rich urban corridor – full of wildlife. As spring arrived so did the birdsong, trees bursting into leaf and the sight of butterflies on the wing.

We should all try and get walking more. Just set off from where you live and walk. See where it takes you. I can bet that you’ll find out so much more about the place where you call home. The pace is just right too, to take things in and to notice the buildings, the green spaces and the sounds that just flash by or you miss when driving past.

Walking is also a great time to think. Try to resist the urge to plug those headphones in and just let the soundscape inspire you. You can use a walk in the morning to plan your day or in the evening to download your day.

I still love a long distance walk (I’m in the midst of trying to complete the classic Cotswold Way with friends) but a ramble through some woods with my family or the walk to the station in the morning is just as rewarding. We’re made to walk and hopefully May will tempt a few more people to see that walking in good your body, soul and mind.

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Nature’s tonic

On Friday splashed across the front page of The Guardian was the headline: ‘GPs to tell patients: exercise, it’s better than many drugs‘. A new report by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges is encouraging doctors to have conversations with patients about the need for more physical exercise in their lives.

At a time when half of the population doesn’t do enough exercise and we lead a fairly sedentary lifestyle, much of which is rooted in the onwards march of screen time, this seems pretty pragmatic thing for doctors to do; in effect being a bit more direct with people with a sprinkling of diplomacy. It taps into the tough on the causes of poor health as much as prescribing drugs once the affects of ill-health have set in. Preventative health care measures will help the patients, improving their quality of life, and save the NHS lots of cash.

However – the covering of this and two things that happened to me in the last 48 hours got me thinking. What we need is a natural health service rooted in enhancing both the physical and mental well-being of Britons.

Encouraging physical exercise makes sense. But it can have other positive side-effects. On Friday I was walking to Bath Spa station to catch a train to Bristol. I could have caught a bus or taken a taxi. However, I would have missed a moment in time that captivated me: stopping in my tracks for barely a minute to watch a blue tit perched in a tree sing its little heart out. Instantly I felt refreshed and my soul was nourished by this most musical of natural sounds.

And then on Saturday a visit to Dyrham Park and the walk through a part of the estate that I hadn’t been before created a moment of wonder. Walking down an old holloway, looking at twisted trees and lichen covered trunks, to a newly built natural play area past made me smile deep inside and the sound of my two children racing down to the play area was a snapshot of how nature can create such a positive feeling.

I remember sitting in a meadow last summer for ten minutes just watching the grasses gently blow in the breeze and spotting butterflies as they dashed past to an unknown destination. Just a short time, tuned out of the treadmill of every day life made me feel really good.

Perhaps we need to see a world where GPs start to prescribe all of their patients nature as a tonic to help them deal with the challenges that they face – making ten minutes a day connecting with the nature. It can help with our physical well-being and also our mental alertness. It also allows us the chance to reconnect with the natural world and hopefully get a real sense of the places where we live.

Modern life is in danger of purely being built around screen time, being sedentary and moving quickly between A and B. We need to take time out, for our own sanity, to reflect, to ponder and to just to sit still and watch and listen. There is no way that we can operate at full speed all of the time and yet there is an innate need to wander which is a core part of being human.

We need exercise to keep our physical condition and we need the natural world to have a sense of connection to the world around us and the pure joy that being immersed in nature can bring. Walking or cycling a little bit every day will help you see the world anew and make your heart sing.