The month of May is National Walking Month, and recent surveys suggest that more of us than ever are taking to the hills to get our regular physical activity. In fact, with 2.8 million people claiming to be regular hill walkers, walking has more active participants across the country than sports such as football, rugby and cricket. While that all sounds mightily impressive (and in many ways it is!), we still have a long way to go. Especially when we consider that we have a population fast approaching 70 million. So, just how do we get more than 4% of us outside to reap the benefits that walking in the great outdoors can bring? Well, I teamed up with Ordnance Survey, Millets and parent blogger Four Seasons Dad to show you just how easy and accessible walking as a family is, and to discuss how you and your children will benefit from time spent walking in the great outdoors.
It will come as no surprise to our regular readers that we absolutely love walking as a family. Every month is National Walking Month for us because wind, rain or shine there is a route and trail to suit us. Of course, at this time of year we’re heading further afield at weekends, giving the kids access to some of the more remote and spectacular examples of nature’s playground. During the week, after school and work, we’ll make use of the lovely green spaces that surround us, which we have access to from our doorstep to ensure that our outdoor family time is regular. There really is no better time of year to start getting outside as a family.
We understand the benefits of walking as a family, sure, but our main reason is refreshingly simple: we want to spend quality time together. In a world where fewer families even sit down to eat together in the evening, where adults are glued to their phones instead of watching their child’s swimming lesson, and where kids find entertainment in watching other kids unbox toys on YouTube, genuine family time is now something that, it seems, needs to be planned for and cherished. And that’s the beauty of walking: wandering along your local woodland trails, parkland or canal towpath needs next to no preparation, no specialist or expensive equipment, and no previous experience. It just needs you, some basic and affordable outdoor clothing and footwear, and the time that you can dedicate to it. There are, however, other important reasons why you should encourage as many people that you know to get out walking as a family this National Walking Month…
First, let’s deal with the facts. In 2018 the NHS reported that over a quarter of adults (26%) were obese. They also reported that 1 in 5 children in Year 6, and 1 in 10 children in Reception were classified as obese. These, I’m sure you’ll agree, are tragically damning statistics; however, it’s important to remember that obesity has a potentially devastating knock-on effect and can lead to a number of serious and life-threatening conditions, such as heart disease, type-2 diabetes, stroke and some types of cancer. Share these statistics with people you know this National Walking Month to help spread the message that just a little bit of physical activity a day can have a massive impact.
It’s imperative to remember, though, that physical health is only one component of our overall health and wellbeing. With 1 in 4 of us expected to experience a mental health problem this year, there has never been a better time to find ways to help combat stress. While work, money and relationship issues are often seen as root causes of mental health problems among adults, it’s vital to remember that children are also increasingly prone to mental health conditions. Increases in online bullying and body image pressures (you’ve only got to trawl the news for the terrible consequences that both can have), combined with a more sedentary lifestyle (remember: Gaming Addiction was actually made a mental health condition in 2017 and people actually part with money to go and watch e-sports!); children have never needed regular physical activity as much as they do today. GetOutside for the positive mental health benefits this National Walking Month.
The horrible facts are that children now spend half as much time outside as their parents’ generation. Not only are they missing out on the clear physical and mental health benefits that being outside can provide, we are slowly raising a generation disconnected from nature. Furthermore, through our ever-growing and unrelenting connection with the digital world that started with the dropping of the family dinner and ends only knows where, we’re also raising a generation of children disconnected from us. Re-connect this National Walking Month.
Now, I’m not saying ban all gaming, ban social media, ban the internet. Of course not, In fact, believe it or not, I’m a huge fan of all three. But moderation and balance in our lives is key. This is specifically why walking is the perfect activity to get our nation back to better physical and mental health and to help us connect with the real world around us and with our family and friends. Some children think that play only exists through a screen. Show them how much fun they can have playing outdoors with you and you’ll set in motion something that could last them a lifetime and which will provide a lifetime of memories. After all, kids won’t remember their best day of TV.
So, with such an obvious and compelling set of circumstances and reasons, what makes walking the perfect activity for getting the nation back to health? Simply put: it’s the accessibility that walking offers. Wherever you are in this beautiful country of ours, get outside and explore it on foot. Check out the free OS Maps app and hit the green spaces button to find… yes, you guessed it…the green spaces and trails that surround you, grab your walking shoes and off you go. You’ll be amazed at just how easy, rewarding and beneficial it can be.