There's no denying that walking is the wonder exercise that's an option for nearly all of us. It's something most can do without the need for training or specialist equipment, and best of all, it's completely free. It uses many of the major muscle groups, and speed it up and you've got low impact cardio workout right from your front door, good for the heart and the knees and hips. We strive to reach our goal of 10,000 daily steps or, better still, three lots of ten minutes' brisk walking to raise the heart rate, as advised in this BBC programme last year.
Mental health is also a hot topic at the moment and it is well documented that being outside and exercising both boost your endorphin levels - and walking serves up a double helping of the feel good factor, so we feel happier as well as healthier.
The advantages don't stop there. Our environment, our road networks, our schools and our communities all benefit from fewer vehicles clogging up our streets and polluting the very air we breathe.
So what's stopping us from stepping out more often? One word... cars.
We have become so dependent on our four-wheeled friends that we've forgotten that walking as a mode of transport is actually a valid option. We hop in our cars to nip to the shops, pop our friends' houses, drop the kids off at school, the zip to work and back to the extent that sometimes walking to get from A to B is as a quaint an idea as cassette tapes and vinyl records (which are making a come-back, by the way. Just saying).
It was recently reported that a quarter of adults are obese and one in six deaths are attributed in some way to inactivity, which is hardly surprising when more than 60% of journeys less than two miles were by car or van (either as a driver or passenger), according to the National Travel Survey 2017. Fitting a little more walking into our daily routines could help prevent major diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, reducing pressure on the NHS as well as on our roads.
But it doesn't have to be this way, and nor should it. With some small changes to our routine journeys, we can get more people out of their cars and into life. Here's how to start off:
1. Ditch the car for journeys less than a mile or two
Your car doesn't like short journeys. Running at low speeds over shorter distances is the most inefficient and most polluting way to drive. It costs more per mile to drive, stop-start, at low speeds than at cruising speed, so you get less miles per gallon and more fumes spewed out into the air.
By contrast, walking a mile takes just 20 minutes, or less if you pick up the pace. You get the benefit of the fresh air, exercise (20 minutes of walking burns 100 calories - boom), and you can skip along knowing you're helping the environment as well as your health.
Walking to work gives you time to think about your day ahead, and you arrive refreshed and ready to start the day. Another tip is to wear comfortable footwear or trainers for slightly longer walks, changing into your smart shoes when you get to your workplace.
If you're walking with company, it's a great way talk and spend quality time together, especially with children. Reconnecting with each other and our surroundings helps us feel grounded and more secure in our world, which improves our mental health as well. It's a fact that 70% of people feel happier after a walk outside. There's no better way to beat the January blues!
Not sure which is the best route for you? You can download walking maps from the walking section of this website.
2. Park and stride
We know that using the car is a must for some journeys but parking up a little bit further from your final destination means that you will get a few minutes of walking in and you'll reduce traffic congestion in busy areas. Often, parking costs are cheaper further away from town centres, so you could save money too.
If you're doing the school run, you'll be giving your children a chance to stretch their legs before they are start the school day. Teachers say that children learn better when they have walked to school and are no doubt a little less fidgety on the carpet! Plus you'll be helping to keep children safer at the school gates with less traffic to contend with.
We've created walking maps for all primary and secondary schools in Darlington, so you can work out the best places to park and stride your kids to school.
3. Hub and spoke parking
Got lots of errands to run? Park in a central location and walk between your jobs rather than drive from one to another. If you need to drop your belongings back at the car between errands, so much the better - it all counts towards your daily exercise goal.
4. Use your walk as your warm up
Walking briskly to the gym is the perfect way to start your work out. Get the muscles moving, raise your heartbeat and psych yourself up for the burn. Then on the way home you can cool down gently and feel extra smug as you've increased your work out by a few minutes at either end. If you're serious about walking as part of your fitness routine, video explains how walk to walk to lose weight.
And there's always 'Prancercise' for the more rhythmic movers among you...
5. Jump off the bus a stop earlier
If you're travelling by bus, first of all, a big high-five to you for being part of the solution and not the problem. You're already walking more than many of us by getting to and from your bus stop, and by using public transport you're reducing the number cars on the road. We salute you! If you'd like to find out more about using the bus in your area, check out our sister website, Connect Tees Valley, for all the info you need to start your journey.
However, you can still increase your daily activity by simply hopping off the bus a stop earlier, or getting on a stop later, saving you money as well as upping your step count. It's a win win!
It might seem that our lives are too busy and hectic to fit more walking in to our routines, but with some small changes we can make a big difference and step into a happier, healthier 2019.
By Georgina at 8 Jan 2019, 11:59 AM