I'm mulling over the latest bit of OMG-inspiring research into the health benefits of walking, and wondering whether I really want to, you know, go there.
I'm in two minds because it's hard to keep on relaying this stuff without being repetitive and even nagging.
It seems counter-intuitive that anyone could, at this stage, be unaware of the health benefits of regular exercise, or, conversely, the risks of inactivity (the two are not, incidentally, different ways of saying the same thing – but that's for another day). But I know from personal experience that for some, the cacophony of advice – of which I am a part – can be numbing, with the result that all health and exercise-related material is aggregated into one, easily ignored basket.
And there's something undeniably familiar about the latest research findings from the US: walking cuts the risk of breast cancer, heard that before. But let's hear it one more time.
As reported in the Irish Independent recently, the American Cancer Society studied 73,615 post-menopausal women, of whom 4,760 were diagnosed with breast cancer during a 17-year follow-up. The researchers found that moderate activity in the form of walking an hour a day was associated with a 14pc lower risk of the disease.
Among all women in the group, 47pc said walking was their only recreational activity, and women were far more likely to take part in walking, dancing or aerobics than vigorous activities like running, swimming and tennis.
Among those women who reported walking as their only activity, those who walked at least seven hours per week had a 14pc lower risk of breast cancer compared to those who walked three or fewer hours per week. The study also found that women who took part in more vigorous activities for an hour a day had a 25pc lower risk of breast cancer than the least active, which echoed findings in other studies.
This is, surprisingly, the first major study to look specifically at the effects of walking. The findings are, if you pretend just for a moment that you've never heard anything similar before, rivetting, and relate to only one of the many health issues that walking has a major impact on.
on an altogether different tack, the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness brings a fine crop of walking festivals; a great chance to boost the enthusiasm for country walking as we descend towards the dark embrace of winter.
In many ways, autumn and winter are the best seasons for walking here; there's nothing finer than a crisp, midge-free winter's day on a mountain.
My recommendation is to try a walking festival far from home, in a part of the country you've never walked in before. Almost inevitably, the result will be eye-opening. It's easy to regard Ireland as a small place with a limited, if attractive range of landscapes to offer, but a weekend walking in an unfamiliar neck of the woods can transform your perception of just how much experience can be hidden in a few dozen square miles of wilderness.
The great beauty of walking festivals is the chance to benefit from the experience of people who have often spent lifetimes in landscapes that are new to you, and who simply enjoy sharing what they know and love.
Conor O'Hagan is editor of the bi-monthly Walking World Ireland magazine. www.walkingworldireland.com
OCTOBER WALKING FESTIVALS
Nire Valley/Comeragh Walking Festival
Fermanagh Walking Festival
Connemara 4 Seasons Walking Festival (Autumn event)
Ballyhoura Autumn Rambling Festival
Footfalls Wicklow Walking Festival
Annascaul Walking Festival