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Walking back to happiness

There can be no better way to enjoy the countryside, at home or abroad, than on foot, and it’s good for you, too. By Norman Wright

Walking is one of the simplest forms of exercise but also one of the most effective at improving and maintaining health.

It is also a great way to immerse yourself in wonderful landscapes during walking holidays at home or abroad.

Research from all over the world shows that the skill we learn around our first birthday and often take for granted as we grow has a huge impact on our lives if we just put one foot in front of the other regularly.

Why walk?

There are many health benefits to be had form walking. They include:

1) Reduces the risk of vascular disease In a report that included findings from multiple studies, researchers found that walking reduced the risk of cardiovascular illness by 31 per cent and cut the risk of dying by 32 per cent.

These benefits applied equally to men and women. Protection was evident even at distances of just five and a half miles per week and at a pace as casual as about two miles per hour. The people who walked longer distances, walked at a faster pace, or both enjoyed the greatest protection from heart disease. There is also a reduced risk of stroke.

Some of the benefits that lead to these reduced risks are lowered blood pressure, reduced bad cholesterol levels and raised good cholesterol.

An additional effect is that improved blood supply around the body boosts energy levels.

2) Prevents or controls type two diabetes By helping maintain a healthy weight and regulating blood sugar levels walking is an important factor in type two diabetes control.

3) Strengthens your bones, thereby reducing your risk of osteoporosis As a weight bearing exercise walking has a beneficial impact on bone density and strength. It will also help maintain muscle strength, which in turn will help support knee and hip joints as well as the back.

Regular walking will also help with agility and balance, helping to prevent falls and the potential of broken bones.

4) Maintains a healthy weight Walking will burn calories at around 100 per mile, depending on the intensity of the exercise and your current weight. It will also encourage healthy eating and discourage snacking. A feeling of well-being is known to promote a better attitude to food.

5) Reduces risk of developing colon cancer and other types of cancers and increases chances of survival for breast cancer and bowel cancer Two studies, presented at the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) conference in Chicago, suggested that walking can be a potent weapon in the battle against cancer.

The first study showed that women who walk for 180 minutes a week after being diagnosed with breast cancer were roughly half as likely to die from the disease than those who didn’t, over an eight year period. The second study uncovered similar findings, this time for people who had bowel cancer.

As a guideline, 25 minutes of walking per day should be enough to deliver the benefits that the studies revealed.

Reduce feelings of depression and boosts mood A series of psychological experiments, conducted by Dr Jeff Miller and Dr Zlatan Krizan suggest that walking naturally boosts your mood – even when it’s mundane and heads towards something you don't want to do.

Endorphins released during exercise including walking are the brain’s natural feel good compounds.

Getting started

The NHS recommends 150 minutes moderate aerobic activity a week such as cycling or walking for those who are generally fit and have no conditions that affect their mobility.

But if that is not possible shorter amounts, for instance ten minutes a day, is still significant.

The NHS suggests a brisk pace, which they define as three miles per hour or at a pace where you can still talk but probably would not be able to sing!

Everyone has their own pace, and walking a little bit slower can still be very useful.

Try to keep your posture erect, with your chin up, your eyes forward, and your shoulders square.

Keep your back straight, belly flat, and bottom tucked in. Keep your arms close to your torso, bent at the elbow.

Take a natural stride, but try to lengthen your steps as you improve. Land on your heels, and then roll forward to push off with your toes. Swing your arms with each stride, and keep up a steady, rhythmic cadence.

Make walking part of your daily life. Walk to work and to the shops. If it’s too far, try walking to the train instead of driving there, or get off the bus a few stops before your destination.

Instead of competing for the closest parking space park further away and walk to your destination. Walk up and down stairs whenever you can.

Walking holidays

A recent study has shown that taking a sunshine break during the UK winter months can provide major health benefits.

HF Holidays, a walking and activity holidays provider, has put together a list of exotic guided walking breaks for holidaymakers seeking to escape the dark and colder nights:

With average January temperatures of 18°C, the rural island of La Gomera, a recognised walkers’ paradise, offers traditional towns, forests and volcanic mountain ridges, perfect for holidaymakers wanting tranquillity and guaranteed sunshine. Stay at Parador de la Gomera, a delightful property reflecting the island’s traditional architecture, with a small central garden courtyard, complete with outdoor pool and excellent coastal views.

Price: Seven nights departing January 26 from £1349pp

One of the lesser-known Canary Islands, La Palma is an ideal winter getaway, offering warm weather and beautiful, diverse landscapes. With January temperatures reaching as high as 21°C, the lush, green island gives you a chance to step out and enjoy diverse landscapes including banana plantations, laurilsilva forests, as well as dramatic volcanic scenery.

Stay at The Parador De la Palma, a newly constructed hotel, modelled on the traditional style, with an extensive fruit tree garden to walk through and excellent views of the Atlantic Ocean.

Price: Seven nights departing January 31 from £1,199pp

Year-round sunshine, rich heritage and charming towns make the Eastern Algarve the perfect spot for a winter guided walking escape. Explore the quaint fishing harbours and ports and spot the diverse birdlife of the salt pans.

Stay at Hotel Via Galé Tavira, a centrally-located hotel, close to the river and the historic centre of the town, complete with outdoor pool on the banks of Ria Formosa.

Price: Seven nights from February 2 from £1,089pp

World-famous volcanic scenery, historic mansions and beautiful coastlines make Tenerife a go-to destination to escape the cold, dreary winter months. Discover Mount Teide, Spain’s highest mountain, and stay in the Hotel Laguna Nivaria, located on the main square in UNESCO World Heritage Site of San Cristobal de la Laguna.

Price: Seven nights from January 27, from £1249pp.

HF Holidays has also put together a number of Christmas and New Year walking breaks with winter sun or amazing UK countryside, whilst everything else is taken care of – including dinner with all of the trimmings.

With trips to enjoy the colour and festivities of one of the world’s biggest fireworks shows in Madeira, the coastal paths and ancient temples of Gozo or simply the picturesque winter scenery of Glen Coe, there is something for everyone this Christmas

For more information on HF Holidays, go to: (www.hfholidays.co.uk) or tel: 0345 470 7558.

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