Health, open space and walking
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What is it about open space, indeed
about walking, that lifts my spirits and adds a spring to my step? The other
day, when I escaped briefly from my lockdown, pandemic purgatory for some
outdoor exercise, I instantly felt happy. Indoors I was the caged lion,
outdoors I could have flown. As a medic, I started to think why.
Outdoor space, be it green, blue,
white, or any colour imaginable, has for centuries been regarded as healthy. Urban
planners now seek greenery, and even the World Health Organization thinks this
is good. You do not need to be physically in open space to benefit. Seeing it
through a window is sometimes all you need. Add walking to open space, and the
benefits climb exponentially.
“Can walking be harmful?” said my
companion, after we had struggled to the top of a Lake District fell, not so
long ago. We had chosen Wansfell Pike, which looks down on the walker’s town of
Ambleside, and separates it from the scenic village of Troutbeck.
“I can’t see how,” I gasped, not
wishing to confess to my wobbly legs and erratic breathing. “I cannot imagine
why walking would ever be bad.”
From our rocky seat, we could see
the full 18-kilometre length of Windermere beneath us. It is England’s largest
natural lake, and the definition of open space.
“Walking is good for the mind,” I
said, “and fantastic for creative thinking.” Steve Jobs, the late co-founder of
Apple, and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame were, or are, famous for their
walking meetings. So many of us solve our problems by walking. Dilemma at work or
relationship struggling? Try a ramble. People do it the world over.
The benefits of walking are huge. As
little as a mile daily can lower blood pressure and substantially reduces the
chance of a stroke. It can also lengthen life, especially if you walk a little
faster. And bones, them bones, are strengthened by a regular stroll, reducing
the risk of hip fracture by an easy 40%.
The scientists have shown that
walking strengthens muscles, improves sleep, lowers blood sugar, boosts energy,
improves the outcomes of pregnancy, and definitely slows down mental decline.
And Alzheimer’s? For men aged between 71 and 93 years, those who walk the most
have the least chance of dementia.
Immunity is important, too. Walking
for 30-45 minutes each day results in 43% fewer sick days, and milder symptoms should
you fall ill. Regular exercise, and that includes walking, significantly
augments the immune response to vaccination. What better news for mid-pandemic?
Once you have had your Covid-19 vaccination, put on those shoes and start
walking, through rain, tempest or shine.
“How about losing weight?” asked my
companion, now that my breathing had settled, and I was able to make sense.
“It’s difficult,” I replied. “Many
feel that more exercise is all you require. Actually, you need to stop
My companion looked taken aback by
my apparent brutality.
“A single pound of human fat
contains 3500 kilocalories,” I explained. “That is nearly nine hours of flat
walking, at 400 kilocalories per hour. I indicated Wansfell Pike around us. “If
you climbed this four times,” I added, “you might lose a single pound. I’m not
sure that walking for weight loss is a guaranteed result.”
My companion was now properly upset,
although to look at their stick-insect frame meant they had no need to worry.
“How about those who cannot walk?”
my companion next sought. “I’m thinking of arthritis, multiple sclerosis, heart
disease, and other problems, too.”
“It’s harder,” I acknowledged, “but
not impossible. In the Lakes we have Miles without Stiles. Forty-eight routes,
of different standards. Plenty are suitable for wheelchairs.”
Our brief stop in the open space of
Wansfell Pike’s summit, with Windermere’s flat expanse laid out below, had done
what walks should do. We had been thinking, talking, chatting and interacting. Walking
is an activity that is as good for the individual as it is for the group.
Up there we were a long way from
any pollution, with an easy 50-kilometre view. High above us, as we began our
downward stumble, I saw a buzzard soar, looking for its next meal. Walking had
also connected us with Nature.
So, when you next feel low, or even
if you do not, put on those shoes, boots if you desire, and walk. It does not
need to be a mountain, just find some open space, wherever your home is
located. Put one foot after the other, with company if you wish, and simply get
I doubt you will be disappointed.
If you go
Coronavirus – be sure
to check each of these suggestions before you go, in light of any pandemic
restrictions in place on the day. These change frequently.
If you feel the urge and wish to take in the view from the
summit of Wansfell Pike, try getting there in time for sunrise. Please be
silent, as I love this place, and may even join you. The route I walk almost
daily starts in Ambleside town centre. You can find it here.
Total distance: 11 kilometres
Going underfoot: A mixture of track, road, rock and slippery fell. Bring spikes if you see ice or snow. Always carry a fully charged mobile telephone.
Time: Allow 2 to 3.5 hours
You can also do the whole thing from Troutbeck, as the route
is circular. If you find walking a struggle, whatever the reason, think about
Miles without Stiles. You can find
Rail to Windermere (London: 3 hours 7 mins; Manchester: 1
hour 44 mins) with taxi from there.
Drive (283 miles from London; 89 miles from Manchester) to Ambleside.
Ambleside: There is a Pay and Display in central
Ambleside. Its postcode is LA22 9AY, with more
Troutbeck: There is plenty of free parking.
For Ambleside: Ambleside
For Troutbeck: Look no further than High Fold Guest House, dead centre of Troutbeck (LA23 1PG). They call it a hidden gem. Brilliantly run by Jackie Cartigny.
For Ambleside: You are spoiled for choice. My
favourite is Zeffirellis.
Address: Zeffirellis, 2. Compston Road, Ambleside, LA22 9DJ
Email: [email protected]
Telephone: 015394 33845
For Troutbeck: There is less choice, but this is a
Lakeland village. Try the Mortal Man, an ale house since 1689.
Address: The Mortal Man, Troutbeck, Cumbria, LA23 1PL
Email: [email protected]
Telephone: 015394 33193
Do not miss
Gingerbread – (Grid reference: NY334507; LA22 9SW)
cruise – departs from Ambleside (LA22 0EY), Bowness (LA23 3HQ), or Lakeside
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