Why do people go walking?

January 19, 2012

Daft question maybe, but there are many different reasons why people are motivated to go out, either for a half hour walk in the park or a full days yomp round the fells and valleys of our superb countryside.

Over the years I have met many many walkers/climbers on a huge variety of walks – whether short walks around lakes, longer ones over the fells or around the local beck with the dogs – and normally the conversation goes something like; “Hi beautiful/awful day” with a response along the lines of “What could be better/better than being inside”. Mundane and pointless stuff but actually a sure sign that most people out on a walk are in a happier, more positive frame of mind (or at least feel they should be) than if they are stuck indoors.

Folk are undoubtedly happier when they are out and about; fresh air combined with exercise gets the blood flowing and is healthy – sadly a recent health report I read stated that less than 5% of people exercised/walked for more than half an hour a day. Actually I was surprised it was as much as this. Walking ┬áis a minority experience.

As is somewhat typical in society today people tend to look for excuses not to do something rather than a reason to do it – going for a walk (the simplest form of exercise) involves an effort, it may involve getting in the car/taking the bus, it certainly will mean putting on some appropriate clothes and footwear and it does take time (and of course none of us have any time!). When faced with the decision the silent majority just do not believe that it is worth the effort and it is so much easier to find something else to do, particularly if it is raining.

This came to mind the other day whilst I was leading a group in horrific weather, driving rain and high winds hastening the visit to the pub. However one of the chaps announced that he loved it like this – he loved the challenge of bad weather and often became bored just walking on a ‘nice’ day. He thrived on challenging himself and getting that adrenalin buzz from pushing himself. Accepted, enjoying bad weather is unusual but the principal behind what he was saying was that his motivation for being out was about the ‘buzz’ and excitement of the walk rather than the intrinsic beauty of the scene. It had me thinking about what motivates me to get out and walk/climb. Four reasons sprung immediately to mind:

  • Fresh air and exercise – returning from a walk/or any form of exercise may make you tired but certainly makes you feel better. I have rarely if ever come across someone after a walk who has not got a smile on there face (albeit a tired one!).  There is no better feeling than sitting in a pub or a tea shop having been out and about with that feeling of well being which comes with it.
  • Socialisation – being with people – like minded friends/families definitely brings them closer together. Children love it and for them being out and about certainly provides many of the best memories of any childhood, certainly they were for me. However lifestage does not matter because a walk is a shared experience and that always brings people together.
  • The lovely scenery – whether walking on your own or in a group our countryside is lovely to look at and, without becoming too spiritual, delightfully peaceful and thought provoking. Coast, mountain and lakeside, our country offers a superb contrast of views which you simply cannot get elsewhere.
  • Walking the dog – most proper dogs need a couple of walks a day regardless of the weather and once out it is rarely a disappointment. I would not be without a dog!

So why do more people not get out and walk, either on a daily basis, or if that is impractical at weekends and for holidays. If asked people tend to come up with a number of reasons that can be narrowed down to just a few; “nothing nearby”, “too boring”, “not sure where to go/will get lost”, “no time”. In reality all of these come down to one thing – there is not an effective enough pull for those people to go on a walk.

As John Craven would say “there are always answers but they may not be straightforward” . Try these for size:

  • National government promotional campaign highlighting the benefits of walking (or other exercise) in the outdoors. This could be regionally based and look at some of the fabulous areas in every part of the country.
  • Increasing numbers of day trips from schools; these could take the form of navigation exercises, understanding the countryside or even more lively visits. Add in some overnight stays (there are many unused barns ripe for simple development just awaiting a visit). Clearly the practicalities are more difficult in the big cities (London in particular) but a 2 night trip into the country staying at some newly set up outdoor centres has to be possible…if there is a will.
  • Finally if walking is still deemed a little tedious by some maybe the countryside does need some enlivening. In the Lake District the excellent Go Ape activities at Grizedale and Whinlatter forests offer excitement whilst private companies offer walking/climbing/boating holidays where the emphasis is on having fun. Even the proposed (and rejected) 1,000 foot zip wire at Honister should be reviewed.

There is a financial cost to the above but, of course, the financial payback is a healthier population and lower NHS bills. Cameron talks a lot about building a better society for the future; well here is a splendid way to achieve it.

With money tight, health on the decline and indoor sports taking over visiting our great outdoors surely is a no brainer.

Enjoy your walks


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