I have fallen back in love with walking! Something we take for granted and so often overlooked is now slowly transforming my life. My gorgeous 14-year old whippet Alfie sadly passed away last year and I have realised that without him walking had, until very recently, become functional and lost a bit of its sparkle, especially with two young children and the logistics of carting all their mountains of stuff around. The endless days of going out for leisurely walks simply to get into nature, breathe fresh air and enjoy being underneath the tree canopy seemed for a while to be a thing of the past. I used to love witnessing the change of the seasons, listening to the sounds in the woods and enjoy the simplicity of watching wildlife going about their daily life. Until recently walking for me had become about getting somewhere, going to the shops, the school run and lacked the space, nourishment and joy that it once held when I perceived that I had more time. As a result, life seemed to be a bit greyer and more urban in its daily routines and flow.
However, in the past few weeks the love I used to have for walking is beginning to return and I have started going out again for a daily walk. Not a walk to get somewhere, but a walk to get back to myself. I wrap up my 5-month-old daughter in her pram and we set out just as she is about to have her morning nap and start walking. In my bag I take a flask of herbal tea and I go armed with a daily podcast to listen to. Now, once again, I am delighting in getting outside in nature, sadly this time without my beloved Alfie, but starting to re-acquaint myself with old paths we used to travel together. I just love being outside, whatever the weather; I wrap up accordingly, put one foot in front of the other and before I know it an hour has easily gone by.
Walking is a free, gentle, low-impact activity that requires no special training or equipment, it’s something that is easily accessible to almost all of us. It is easy to start slowly and build up gradually, as well as being the ideal exercise to fit around everyday life. As a result, it addresses many of the common barriers to being more active, such as lack of time, money, poor health and physical limitations. 
Walking has many well documented health benefits including maintaining a healthy weight, preventing or managing heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, strengthening bones and muscles, improving balance and coordination and improving our mood. Shane O’Mara, Professor of Experimental Brain Research at Trinity College, Dublin explains that the health benefits of walking actually go even further by helping to repair our brains, aiding digestion, reducing inflammation, and allows us to be creative and better at problem solving. He also states that walking enhances our memories and, importantly in our aging population, helps older people who walk to be less lonely.
All these amazing health benefits are free and completely accessible to us at any time! And for those trying to conceive, walking may improve your chances of getting pregnant, especially in women who are overweight or obese. One study showed that for overweight or obese women who had experienced 1-2 miscarriages, their probability of conceiving increased simply by walking for more than 10 minutes a day.
So how much walking should we be doing and how can we encourage ourselves to get our comfy walking shoes on and get out there? The standard recommendation of walking 10,000 steps a day has now been shown to be a rather arbitrary figure and not based on robust evidence. Indeed, O’Mara talks about trying to aim more for 10,000-14,000 steps a day. Clearly this is something to aim for as 14,000 steps is about 6 miles, but it does bring to mind the question of how can we achieve this goal in our own daily lives, in order to reap all of these wonderful health benefits? One way is to break it down into more manageable steps over the course of the day and generally aim to be more active, instead of having to find a big block of time. Technology can help us in this endeavour as we can keep track of the number of steps we have walked in a day by looking at the Health App on our smart phones. Thus, most people don’t even need to buy any extra equipment.
Current thinking also states that it is not just the number of steps walked in a day that is important, but also the speed at which we are walking; indeed we are now being encouraged to aim for at least 10 minutes of brisk walking daily. The NHS have a free downloadable app called Active 10, which monitors the quality of our walking. It distinguishes a stroll from the type of walking that gets our heart pumping and being a bit out of breath if we try and hold a conversation; apparently it is the combination of intensity and duration that confers the maximum health benefits.
So, what have I noticed since I have started my daily walks? My mood is better and more positive, my stress levels are lower, I’m more cheerful, my digestion is better, I am definitely sleeping better (as much as anyone with a 5 month old can sleep well!), my clothes are fitting better, my energy is better, I have a feeling of connection with the natural world again and I have time to think and reconnect with myself – all this from a simple daily walk! Interestingly, I have also found myself really looking forward to getting out each day – somehow my day is not the same without it.
How can you fit in even 30-minutes of walking daily? Some simple ideas may be to go out at lunchtime with colleagues or on your own for 30 minutes of peace, get off the bus or tube a stop early and walk the rest of the way, get up a bit earlier in the morning and walk the kids to school rather than take the car (they’ll benefit too!), walk up the stairs rather than taking the lift or escalators, fix a time in your diary to go for a walk with a podcast and enjoy some time to yourself, or, when you have more time at the weekends, explore your local parks and woodlands and get out in the fresh air. Make this commitment to yourself, dig out some old trainers, a raincoat and get some thinking time outside and, who knows, maybe you might fall in love with walking too…
 Russo LM et al., 2018, ‘A prospective study of physical activity and fecundability in women with a history of pregnancy loss’, Human Reproduction, vol 33, 7, pp. 1291-1298. https://academic.oup.com/humrep/article/33/7/1291/4965834