Written By: Belinda Hodder
There are so many benefits of walking, it’s difficult to list them all! It is one of the simplest things you can do outdoors – you don’t need training or loads of kit or loads of money or experience – you can just get out and do it! And why not when the UK has so many beautiful places on offer?
We know walking is great for your health but can long-distance walking do even more for you?
What counts as long-distance walking? According to the Long Distance Walkers Association, this is generally any walk that is 20 miles or more off-road. The well-known British long-distance walks tend to be much longer though!
No matter if you are new to the hobby, looking to improve your health, or are already a seasoned hiker, I guarantee a long-distance walk is definitely worth considering!
Let’s look at what happens to the body during a long-distance walk, first physically
One of the most obvious things walking can help with is weight loss. You can burn around 100 calories per mile of walking which, over a long-distance walk, will be sure to yield results.
But there’s something even more important walking can do for you.
According to the World Health Organisation, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death around the world, claiming around 17.9 million lives each year. Studies have shown that walking for longer distances reduces the risk of heart disease across all ages and fitness levels.
As well as longer distances, a faster walking pace directly correlates with a lower risk of heart disease. In short, it’s more beneficial to walk briskly for an hour than to walk at a casual pace for around the same amount of time. And if you don’t have much time in the day to walk it’s definitely worth picking up the pace!
Further physical benefits of walking include lower blood pressure, reduction of your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and even increased life expectancy.
Not bad for just walking, eh?
What are the mental health benefits of walking?
According to the UK charity Mind, one in four people suffer with mental health problems. Anxiety and depression are the two most common disorders, with one out of every six people reporting a problem. Unfortunately, the number of people suffering is on the increase too, with reports going up in both men and women by 20% from 1993 to 2014.
Long-distance hikers have reported mental health benefits of walking including improved self-esteem as they find new strengths in themselves, accomplishing things they perhaps thought they couldn’t. Perhaps they surprised themselves with what they’re capable of, navigated effectively or pushed on when they felt like giving up.
Others have reported long-distance walking as a form of escape from the modern world with all its demands and stresses. Simply getting back into nature if you have been separated from it for some time is very therapeutic.
It can help reduce anxiety too. When you are doing a long-distance hike, your mind will be so focused on simply surviving – getting to the next point on your map, finding food, finding water, sheltering from the elements … you will have less time to fret over things that don’t really matter. Additionally, when you have a build-up of adrenaline from stress, your body naturally wants to move to release that tension, helping relieve some of that anxiety.
Not to mention the release of endorphins when you exercise. These are the body’s natural painkillers and feel-good hormones. A great natural remedy for depression and a massive benefit to walking.
How to get into long-distance walking?
If you’ve never done it before, you might be wondering where to start. The first thing is to do your research. There’s a whole heap of information online and many a guidebook for the popular long-distance treks. Find a walk that you’re interested in doing and then have a good read around what it involves. Try to find an itinerary that includes places to stop for the night, places to eat and things to see along the way.
Then, you should make a plan. What time of year will you be going and how long do you expect the walk to last? Perhaps you want to be at certain waymarks by certain times. How much time will you need to book off work?
Next, consider what kit you’ll need. It’s really important to be prepared. You need to be warm, dry, and not too weighed down with things. Generally, long-distance walks are recommended to be undertaken in the warmer months so you shouldn’t have to carry heavy winter gear with you.
You might also want to do some training before embarking on your hike so that you are more physically prepared for the challenges.
What are the best long-distance hikes in the UK?
Take your pick from coastal, cross-country, islands, or historical walks. The UK has something for everyone! There are many walks to choose from but here’s a few ideas for inspiration:
The Anglesey Coastal Path in Wales is 130 miles and you will be treated to an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) for 95% of this walk!
The West Highland Way in Scotland is 96 miles and takes you to the base of Ben Nevis (the largest UK mountain) and past Loch Lomond (the UK’s largest lake!).
The Pennine Way is the oldest national trail and covers 268 miles from Derbyshire to the Scottish Borders, passing the Peak District, Yorkshire Dales, and North Pennines.
Find the planning stage a bit daunting?
Let us do it for you! We have planned itineraries for some classic routes, allowing you to experience a long-distance hike and reap the health benefits without the hassle. Want to take in three national parks? The Coast to Coast walk is perfect. Want to see a bit of history? Try walking Hadrian’s Wall or the Borders Abbeys Way. If the Lake District is your thing, why not hike the Cumbria Way?
So, now you know the benefits of walking and have hopefully been inspired to try a long-distance hike, what are you waiting for? Book now.