Or, The Joy of Treks
Welcome to human:KIND, where we take time out from our busy schedule of geeking to think about the things that make us human.
This week Paul talks about discovering the simple pleasures and health benefits of a gentle yet effective form of exercise.
I was one of those kids who used to look forward to going to school. However, once I got to secondary school there was one day in the year which, given the choice, I would have avoided at any cost. While other classes had end-of-year tests and exams which increased in difficulty over the years, our annual assessment for PE was always the same.
The dreaded Cottingham Run, known to every kid as The Cotty Run, was a cross-country race upon which we were assessed, regardless of the sports in which we excelled (basketball, hockey, tennis and rugby were my favourites). We were expected to run out of the school grounds, down the hill to the petrol station on the edge of town, through the countryside to the nearby village of Cottingham, on to the next village of Rockingham, culminating in a final leg back to the school which included the 12% gradient Rockingham Hill.
In all, it was five miles and in the five years I ran it, I never completed it once. One year I was taken back to school in the teacher’s car because I hurt my leg, another because I developed breathing problems, once I was picked up because I was taking too long to make it back for the next lesson – all genuine complaints but for which my schoolfriends ribbed me mercilessly.
So when I was back in my hometown for Father’s Day, The Cotty Run seemed an ideal place to start training for a charity hike I had been persuaded to sign up for.
Not only would the varied terrain be helpful in my preparations, but there was also a personal demon which I felt I needed to conquer. So early that morning, I set off, waited at the school to see if anyone turned up to walk with me (having advertised my intentions to my old school friends on Facebook) and, when nobody came, went on my way.
Perhaps it’s because I’m older and appreciate the countryside more or maybe because I had a fun audiobook to accompany me, but I really enjoyed it, even the steep hill at the end (in fact, a school friend did actually jog past me as I wheezed my way to the top). And I was back home in time for breakfast!
The Health Benefits of Walking
I often get frustrated with other forms of exercise, especially competitive sports, but walking fits me as I can go at my own pace and still reap in the physical benefits, which include:
- Reduced risk of life-shortening ailments like heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
- Improved balance, core strength and bone density.
- Increased muscle strength, especially in the lower body.
- Improved cardiovascular and pulmonary fitness.
- It helps lower high blood pressure and cholesterol.
- You burn about 500 calories per hour so, with a balanced diet, it can help with weight loss.
- As physical exertion releases endorphins, which relieve stress and improve mood, hiking can also help with anxiety, ADHD and other mental health conditions.
A month or so earlier I hiked up Mam Tor in the Peak District with a friend who was staying at my flat. The staircase to the top was extremely hard work, but the sense of achievement upon reaching the top, not to mention the panoramic views, were incredible. It was a sunny day in late May and there were a lot of people out on the hill to enjoy the clement weather. My friend from London remarked how friendly everyone was on the route compared to her usual commute in the capital. Hiking is a very sociable pastime and is a great way to spend a few hours when the sun is actually out!
An Active Lifestyle
Previously any period of extended exercise like The Cotty Run would have tired me out for the rest of the day, but as I had been taking short but brisk walks in my lunch breaks for a couple of months, I actually got home feeling like I could walk it again. As a Fitbit wearer, I try to reach their recommended 10,000 steps per day but I don’t worry too much if I don’t always hit that target. The NHS suggest that ten minutes of brisk walking (about 3mph or faster – enough to get you slightly out of breath) is sufficient to significantly improve your health. But there are plenty of little things you can do to increase the distance you walk every day:
- Park further away from the store.
- Walk to and from the next bus or tram stop along the route
- Leave the car at home when nipping to the shop
- Take the stairs instead of the lift
Taking Things Further
After a month or so of lunch-break ambles, I wanted to move from strolls to more traditional hiking. It was recommended to me that I increase the distance I walk a little at a time and that I get some proper walking equipment.
- The first and most important thing I needed to get was a good pair of walking shoes. They are especially necessary for off-road terrain. Sturdy trainers are suitable for pavements and roads. Yes, they can be expensive, but a good pair will last and give you better value for money than several cheap pairs. The last thing you want is for your trainers to fall to pieces while you’re in the middle of nowhere!
- A pole cab be helpful for hill walking, or where the terrain is rough.
- A full water receptable is absolutely essential, whether it be a handheld bottle or a bladder you carry on your back. One of the main medical issues affecting walkers is heatstroke. You might think that keeping your head protected from the sun is the best preventative measure against this, and that is important, but keeping yourself hydrated is key. You can get heatstroke even in cloudy conditions if you don’t constantly replace the water which you are losing through sweating.
- Socks. In particular, walking or running socks which are designed to reduce the risk of blisters by channelling sweat away from and cushioning the sensitive areas of the feet.
- A first aid kit. Blisters are the biggest complaint so keeping a good supply of blister plasters and alcohol wipes to hand is sensible!
Snacks. As I said before, you can burn 500 calories per hour, so on longer walks, you’ll need to replenish that energy. Snacks which are high in energy and protein not only give you an energy boost but also help repair and maintain. Things like seed and nut mix, dried fruit, mint cake and cereal bars are great for this. Personally, I like to take Jelly Babies (for energy) and bananas (for potassium which helps combat cramp and muscular pain).
Going The Distance
This weekend (Saturday 8th September 2018) I’ll be meeting up with this site’s own Simon Stothard to take part in a charity walk called The Thames Path Challenge. The two of us will be trekking 28km (about 17 miles) along the Thames from Putney Bridge to Hampton Court in the name of Diabetes UK – a charity which means a lot to me as my dad has suffered from type-1 diabetes for most of his adult life.
To date, this will be the longest walk I have taken part in and it would be fair to say that I am a little nervous, but also looking forward to it. I am told that it’s quite a nice atmosphere with all the other walkers there and I have to admit that while I do like a good audio-book or playlist, it’ll be nice to have someone else to talk to along the route.
If anyone reading is able to donate a little towards this great cause please visit my Just Giving page (it will remain open for four weeks after the walk – 6th October) then I and Diabetes UK would really appreciate your support!
Thanks for listening. How do you stay fit? Are you raising money for a good cause? Please join the discussion in the comments below. And remember: Be Human, Be Kind.