Friday 30 September 2016

'My daily walk has kept me slim and fit for 15 years'

The news that walking is the best way to fight the flab is no surprise to Polly Vernon, who walks for three hours every day…

Published 10/11/2015 | 02:30

Walk on the calm side: Polly Vernon credits walking with keeping her both trim and sane. Photo by Geoff Pugh
Walk on the calm side: Polly Vernon credits walking with keeping her both trim and sane. Photo by Geoff Pugh

There are times when you deserve to feel pleased with yourself and last week was one of them. Science, you see, confirmed something that I had worked out a decade-and-a-half-ago, namely: regular walking is the best thing you can do to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

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According to the study from the London School of Economics, brisk walking is a better deterrent against obesity than any other form of exercise. Forget the gym or five-a-side, stuff running, spinning, Zumba and squash... walking officially beats them all, hands (or trainered feet) down.

Men and women who walk briskly for more than 30 minutes a day were found to have lower BMIs and smaller waists than everyone else involved in the study.

"Given the obesity epidemic, and the fact that a large proportion of people are inactive, recommending that people walk briskly more often is a cheap and easy policy option," said Dr Grace Lordan, who led the research.

This leaves me feeling validated. I've been boring on for ages about how brilliant walking is, how wildly underestimated its benefits are, how everyone should do it. And I should know: for the last 15 years, I've walked between 10 and 15 miles a day (25-30,000 steps). Every single day.

It takes me approximately three hours in total. To fit it in, I get up a little earlier and give myself a little longer to get home. Not having children has made this easier, but I truly believe everyone could walk for at least half- an-hour more than they do at the moment.

Has it made me thin? It's certainly kept me thin. I was thin when I started (in my late 20s, single-digit dress size, one of the lower ones) but now in my 40s, for as long as I've been walking, my weight hasn't fluctuated by so much as a couple of pounds, even during my cake-iest periods.

Inevitably, this made me a little smug; equally inevitably, it made me tell anyone who'd listen that they, too, should do this amazing thing I was doing.

Walking is the only thing I ever evangelise about, because, unlike everything else that makes me feel good (meditation, Jaffa Cakes, the fantasy fiction genre, the television show River), walking is the one thing I truly believe will work for everyone. Anyone who can walk, should walk. It's free, it has purpose, you already know how to do it.

It'll do for you what it does for me.

It's fair to say, part of me thinks I invented walking.

That is not to say that I don't take issue with this London School of Economics report. I do. Because I would argue that it doesn't go far enough. In my considerable experience, walking doesn't just keep you thin.

It keeps you sane, too.

Mental health got me walking in the first instance. I was in my late 20s, and beginning to understand that the love of my life (London) was also my chief tormentor.

The stress of the city and my job as a journalist got the better of me and I became claustrophobic, which meant I could no longer stand to travel around London's endless sprawl by Underground. (I've since discovered this feeling is common in Londoners, and, God, how transparent we all are! The thing that speeds us relentlessly round our city is also the thing we're likely to fall apart on, and ultimately, resist and refuse.)

So I ditched the Tube for the bus. Only one day - as is not unusual - my bus did not come. I waited and I waited, and I waited some more, blood pressure rising, spitting and swearing and huffing and puffing over the unimaginable injustice of a bus that would not come.

Then, after 20 minutes, spurred onwards by a desire to demonstrate I simply would not stand for such abysmal service, I walked. I walked along my bus route, assuming that sooner or later, my arrival at another bus stop would coincide with the arrival of my bus. But it didn't.

So I walked some more, eventually making it to work, a mere 20 minutes later than my journey would normally have taken, calmer than I might have anticipated, and feeling like I'd accomplished something huge before 10am.

I also felt liberated. Who wants to be enslaved by their public transport systems, beholden to their schedules? Suddenly, I had another option.

The next day, I walked again. And the day after; and the day after that.

After a month of walking to work, I couldn't help but notice my thighs were changing shape. They were leaner and firmer and more defined. After two months, I realised my bottom was altering, too, becoming neater and more contained. It was at that point that I decided to start walking home, too.

The more I walked, the more thoroughly immersed I became in how miraculous it was. It calmed me down. I could start my daily tramp in a foul mood: riled by my partner, anxious about a meeting or wrong-footed by a nightmare; sad or scared or emotionally a little lost.

By the time I arrived at wherever I was supposed to be: I was fine. Something about walking gives you perspective. It makes the world feel more fundamentally right. I think it's because our species is supposed to walk. We are built to walk. We are not built to sit, or crouch over computers or phones. We are not built to slump on sofas, binge-watching box sets.

We are built to stand up, swing our legs, plant our feet, and just go. Of course, doing one of the things our bodies are primarily designed to do would make our heads feel really and truly good.

The third thing I noticed was how walking reaffirmed my love for where I lived. When you wander daily around your locale, you start to look at it properly; when you do that, you notice how devastatingly beautiful it is.

How weird, how sweet, how contrary, how chic. I saw hidden architectural loveliness and hilarious graffiti; outrageously stylish tiling on the exterior of ancient pubs, unutterably picturesque, Dickensian cut-throughs and alleyways. I saw more of the sky, more often, than I'd ever seen before.

The last thing I noticed was how much walking helps with the writing process. There's been research into this, too; into the synchronicity between walking and writing. James Joyce walked, William Wordsworth walked; so did Virginia Woolf. Charles Dickens used to walk 20 miles a day, which makes me feel... competitive.

Walking, researchers believe, helps with memory and promotes new connections in the brain. It definitely shifts whatever writer's block I have ever experienced; if I ever get stuck: I just go for a walk. Walking always fixes it.

Walking also fixes hangovers, heartbreak, low-grade colds, boredom, loneliness and that nagging sensation that you haven't achieved anything today.

It has some downsides. You will get rained on (but not as often as you think, and that's nothing a sturdy brolly can't help with), you'll need to carry posh shoes in a separate bag, and cyclists can be a nightmare, far more troublesome than cars: wayward, melodramatic and happy to mount pavements and speed the wrong way down one-way streets.

But otherwise, walking really is as simple, blissful, effective and as good as I've always said it was. If you don't believe me, just ask science. (© Sunday Telegraph)

How weird, how sweet, how contrary, how chic. I saw hidden architectural loveliness and hilarious graffiti; outrageously stylish tiling on the exterior of ancient pubs, unutterably picturesque, Dickensian cut-throughs and alleyways. I saw more of the sky, more often, than I'd ever seen before.

The last thing I noticed was how much walking helps with the writing process. There's been research into this, too; into the synchronicity between walking and writing. James Joyce walked, William Wordsworth walked; so did Virginia Woolf. Charles Dickens used to walk 20 miles a day, which makes me feel... competitive. Walking, researchers believe, helps with memory and promotes new connections in the brain. It definitely shifts whatever writer's block I have ever experienced; if I ever get stuck: I just go for a walk. Walking always fixes it.

Walking also fixes hangovers, heartbreak, low-grade colds, boredom, loneliness and that nagging sensation that you haven't achieved anything much today. It has some downsides. You will get rained on (but not as often as you think, and that's nothing a sturdy brolly can't help with), you'll need to carry posh shoes in a separate bag, and cyclists can be a nightmare, far more troublesome than cars: wayward, melodramatic and happy to mount pavements and speed the wrong way down one-way streets.

But otherwise, walking really is as simple, blissful, effective and as good as I've always said it was. If you don't believe me, just ask science.

(The Sunday Telegraph)

Do you really need to take 10,000 steps a day?

The concept of 10,000 steps originated in Japan in the run-up to the 1964 Olympics, when a company came up with a device called a manpo-kei, which means "10,000 step meter".

This quickly became the global figure for fitness. But this is because 10,000, as an even, round-figured number, is catchier than 7,000 or 8,000 steps, which would still qualify you as a "moderately active" person -

15,000 steps (seven miles) is the minimum you should aim for if you want to lose weight.

Irish Independent

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