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Four walking experts share their top advice for beginners

Your Life
Thursday 09 November 2017
RetireWise with Key, your equity release advisers. The idea of staying healthy via exercise can be daunting when you're a beginner.

Thankfully, there's an activity much more inconspicuous than strenuous gym routines that you can really sink your feet into: walking. Not only is walking a low cost activity, it allows you to get outdoors and enjoy what your area has to offer, benefitting your heart and your mind.

In a report run by the Ramblers and Macmillan Cancer Support, the UK Chief Medical Officers said that a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week (e.g. walking) could prevent 37,000 deaths every year and not only that, being active cuts the risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes by 20% to 50%.

Having trouble sleeping? Here's more good news for you: research by Oregon State University revealed that just 30 minutes of brisk walking over five days can help you sleep better and feel more alert during the day.

Now that you know more about the benefits of walking, we want to share with you some great tips to help you take advantage of this pastime. We've enlisted the help of four walking bloggers to provide you with some expert pointers and inspire you to pull on those walking boots.

First up is Pete Hill, writer of GB Coast Walk:

GB Coast Walk is the diary of Pete Hill who spent 2014 taking on the challenge of a 5,000 mile walk around the coastline of mainland Great Britain. His blog charts his journey and is nothing short of inspirational! Keep up to date with his adventures here. His piece of advice is suited to those more comfortable lending the help of GPS-navigation to guide their journey:

Pete's tip: "How to not get lost!"

Paper maps are no longer my first choice. I began my ten month trek carrying some as back-up, but they were soon abandoned once I had gained confidence in my chosen technology. Technology was crucial to my planning process as this nerd digitally plotted 247 daily routes to walk 5,045 miles. The effort paid off with an achievable schedule.

GPS equipped phones and tablets store your data and provide accurate location if lost or mildly confused. They can be used in isolation for navigation without a phone or data signal. In most apps you can buy quality maps (I used 1:25,000) and plot your route on a big screen before uploading it to your device. With enhanced data, you will know the expected terrain and be forewarned of those steep valley traverses and knee-deep bogs.

A few worthy tips:  Carry a spare battery and/or portable charger and use your device in power-saving mode with all other apps disabled. A waterproof case is vital, particularly in Britain!

So….is there a downside? Well, yes - a small screen isn't great for getting a wider appreciation of the area around you, but it is a small price to pay for not getting lost.

Next we have Beth and Steve, writers of Cumbrian Rambler:

Beth and Steve moved from Hampshire to Cumbria to start new roots, where they lived in a camper van for the first three months of their new life. Cumbrian Rambler documents their journey and one of their passions: hiking, and has led them to publish a book for anyone wanting to take a walk round the Lake District. "Historic Cumbria" is available via their website and has been championed by Sir Chris Bonington (British engineer). Follow their journey on Twitter here. For this piece they suggest a particularly idyllic route:
Their tip: "Head to Windermere"

Orrest Head is perhaps one of the most important fells in the Lake District.  Back in 1930 Alfred Wainwright [British fellwalker and guidebook author] first visited Cumbria and, after leaving Windermere station, he made the short walk to the top of the fell.  The breath-taking view completely changed his life and led to him moving to Kendal and writing the walking guides now synonymous with the Lake District.

There are well marked and well-trodden routes from Windermere and it's about a 20 minute walk to the summit.  At the top you will be rewarded with panoramic views of the fells and a bird's eye view along the length of Windermere.  As well as a hand carved memorial to Wainwright you'll find plenty of benches too so be sure to pack a hot flask of tea and a picnic.

Next up, John Hayes, writer of John Hayes Walks:

John Hayes did an epic 5,000 mile walk from Spain to Budapest and uses his blog to document his other adventures. He wrote a guidebook for trekkers taking on the GR1 Sendero Histórico, which is a 1,250km route across northern Spain from the Mediterranean to the Asturias, which is available to by on Amazon. He's got some practical advice for when you take your walk:

John's Tip: "Pack Light"

I'm a walking softie and prefer a bed in the evening to a tent.  I do however carry all the gear I need to go flexibly from place to place.  When walking with friends the biggest subject of conversation (after pensions and blisters) is how much should your back pack weigh for this sort of multi-day trip (my longest was six months).  Excluding water, but otherwise fully loaded, my pack weighs 5 kg.

In mountainous countryside walking is a form of exercise resembling weightlifting and carrying as little as possible means you can walk longer and faster.  Although it's essential to prepare for unseasonal weather, particularly in the UK, this can achieved without piling on the pounds. Weigh everything before putting it in the bag and avoid items with a duplicate function.  It might sound a little boring but I manage with two sets of clothes: one for travelling/evening and one for walking.

And finally we have Alison, founder of Foot Trails:

Foot Trails are an innovative English travel company offering tailor made independent and small group guided walking trips across six counties of South West England. Founder, Alison, and her partner gave up their lives in the UK to hike 680 miles through France before returning home. Inspired by their adventure, they wanted others to share the experience and thus Foot Trails was born. For more details visit Foot Trails or email [email protected] for a brochure. See what she's up to on Twitter here.

To make sure we provide value for readers of differing preferences, we have sought expert opinions from a variety of experts and here, contrary to Pete Hill's advice above, Alison prefers to stay away from technology:

Alison's Tip: "Ditch the technology – a lesson in how to walk mindfully"

Technology is everywhere. Its uses many fold. But having spells technology free has proven benefits on mind and body. And walking gives the perfect opportunity to do it.

This mindful way of walking can reduces stress, combat depression and helps us to feel happy and grounded. And the break from screens is good for our eyes and reduces the likelihood of tension headaches.

I advocate switching off your phone and devices when you walk and immersing yourself in nature and your surroundings instead. Free of technology our senses come alive. Listen. Notice the sound of wind through leaves or birds overhead. Look. Take in the details of the view. Notice the shape of the land and colours. Give your observation skills and natural instincts the chance to develop and improve.

There are many ways to walk technology free including maps and trail cards.

My tips:

1) Switch off your devices when you walk for a deeper, calmer and mindful experience.
2) Allow your senses to engage and your instincts to kick in. Tune in instead to the subtleties of nature.
3) Take a nature guide and enjoy looking up species you spot.
4) Notice how you feel. Let your thoughts drift.
5) Try proper maps or professional directional trail cards for a fun and safe way to find your way.

Now that you're armed with tips and advice from the experts, get outdoors and enjoy the nature around you.
Page last updated: Tuesday 04 February 2020