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The Health Benefits of a Good Walk in the British Countryside
Written by Steve Alders - Fitness Footwear

Walkers and hikers have long sung the benefits of a good walk for mental wellbeing and stress relief. The benefits to the mind of getting out into the heart of the countryside, experiencing the solitude, and exercising at one with nature cannot be overstated. With open space comes mental breathing space, and when away from the distractions of home, work and urban life everything becomes simpler, as the daily grind is literally miles away.

The mental health benefits of walking run much deeper than just clearing the mind, as recent studies have demonstrated. For mental health walking is the best tonic and regular walking has been demonstrated to improve moods, relieve depression, ease anxiety and improve self esteem, which is not a bad tally in anyone's book.

Of course walkers have known that all along, however the wave of publicity from health authorities, doctors, and alternative therapists all singing the praises of simple exercise and getting away from it are appearing t sink in with the rest of Britain. Getting out into the great outdoors for exercise has far deeper benefits that gymnasium exercising could ever hope to achieve. It is no surprise that walking for mental and physical fitness is enjoying such a surge in popularity of late.

Being in the right place mentally has a tremendous benefit for physical health. It creates the right environment for the body to maximise the effects of the immune system and fight off infections. Fit and active people suffer far less from common bugs and ailments and take control over their health. Walking makes for both a healthy body and a healthy mind.

The NHS has recently started a campaign to promote a healthier way of life by walking, and recommends walking about 10,000 steps a day, approximately 5 miles. The benefits to the body from increasing walking are far reaching, with regular walkers suffering far less from major diseases and illness such as heart disease, strokes, osteoporosis, arthritis and diabetes. Walkers have a far lower incidence of cancer and recent studies even suggest that it can help prevent Alzheimer's disease.

Regular exercisers live longer and have happier, healthier lives as the US department of health proved in a 1996 study, when for both old and young, regular exercise such as walking reduced mortality and improved health. There are few doctors who would not recommend walking more often as highly beneficial for the health of most of their patients to help the body better fight off illness, and when illness does strike fight it off much more quickly.

Of course the major benefit of getting out into the country and walking is to improve cardiovascular fitness. No matter what the level of fitness, walking can be done at any pace and can give a gentle workout through to an extreme low impact training session. Walking burns calories and will help to reduce body fat whilst helping the body to generate more HDLs. This is the good form of cholesterol which the body needs to help protect the arteries. At any pace walking is excellent for burning calories, and depends on the distance travelled and the gradient of the terrain rather than the pace of walking. A gentle stroll will get you slimmer, whereas jogging and trail running increase the rate.

Whilst giving your metabolism a boost, muscle tone is improved throughout the body, especially in the lower back and legs. It helps to prevent joint problems in later life and increases energy levels whilst combating lethargy and improving sleeping. Exercising the lower body regularly, especially with walking and hiking, helps to increase bone density and is a great regime to stave off osteoporosis. For the kids it's fantastic, as bones grow stronger and it helps to control weight. It has been estimated that 20% of children in the UK are overweight, and that they walk far less than even in recent years. Fewer children walk to school anymore, and more time is spent on computer games and in front of the TV than ever so it's no surprise that the proportion of overweight children has increased. More regular exercise such as walking will keep children fit and healthy and make for a longer and happier life.

Whilst even walking around the block is good, nothing beats getting out in the open air and enjoying the sights and sounds in the countryside, as this turns simple exercise into pure pleasure. Many people hate the thought of walking or jogging, however when you add the smells of the countryside, the beautiful scenery, the social experience of meeting like minded people and seeing nature in its full splendour it becomes less of a chore and more of a delight.

Britain is blessed with a range of diverse national parks, crisscrossed by bridleways and pathways and offers diverse scenery. We are blessed living on a relatively small island where the landscape changes dramatically in a few hundred miles. Getting out into a different area can easily be achieved in a day, with the Lake District, Derbyshire Dales, Yorkshire Moors and Pendle and the North West offering some of the most beautiful scenery Britain has to offer, and provides challenging walks for all levels.

Of course before starting out it is important to purchase the correct footwear. A high quality pair of walking boots is a sound investment as they will give the feet and legs the best cushioning and support to help achieve the maximum health benefits. A good quality pair of brown leather walking boots are the traditional choice, however to get more use out of them locally and to get extra value for money the more modern styles are an increasingly a popular choice. North Face trainers are one of the better options on the market for flexibility. They will allow for a faster walk and jog, whilst still giving excellent support and cushioning to the feet. Many people opt for a rugged trainer such as these, as they can be used when back in town for urban walking, whilst waiting to get back out in the great outdoors.

For more determined walkers and those seeking to take their new found hobby to more extremes, then walking or hiking shoes become the order of the day. High quality walking boots and shoes offer more longevity that trainers, and for arduous hikes, crossing fells, coping with wet and uneven terrain they provide better protection for the feet. Merrell shoes are a great choice, being designed for the great outdoors and offering the utmost protection to the feet. They utilise the latest technologies to cushion the joints, provide support to the feet, whilst keeping the feet dry and breathing and are guaranteed to resist the worst of the British weather.

Once the footwear is sorted and suitable layers of breathable donned, it's time to get out and about, get fresh country air into the lungs and start increasing lifespan. Regular exercise in the great outdoors can add years to your life and give you that all important increase in quality of life to boot. So get your shoes on, fill up your flask, and get out there and start taking control of your health.

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