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Dr Ciara Kelly: 'Do your health a favour - join my 100 days walking'


(stock photo)

(stock photo)

(stock photo)

Happy January 19 - or as I like to think of it now, day 19 of 100 days of walking. I started 100 days of walking in January 2018 - so it's on its third outing and, to be honest, I never expected that what started out as a half-formed plan while lying on my couch - feeling sluggish after my twelfth mince pie - would end up being a thing thousands of people around the country are doing on the highways and byways of Ireland.

It's a simple New Year's resolution, where you start out on January 1 and you walk for at least 30 minutes a day for 100 days - which brings us up to (this is a leap year) April 9. Obviously you can walk more, but 30 minutes is the minimum. And the idea is you do it hail, rain or shine, feeling wrecked or not feeling wrecked. The only excuse I'll accept is if you're hospitalised, though you can walk a fair distance in those corridors!

And I suppose the beauty of it is its simplicity. It's totally inclusive as anyone can do it - old, young, fit, unfit, fat, thin. You just go at whatever pace you can. There's no target distance - that will totally depend on what you're capable of. It's free, no membership is required and no fancy equipment, apart from comfortable shoes. And it starts the minute you head out of your front door. You don't have to go anywhere specific. If it's a bad day you can just head out for 15 minutes from home and head back again. It's the exercise that has the least obstacles to doing it - and the benefits are huge.

Before I even get into the health benefits, there are massive psychological ones. Setting a goal and achieving it every day for 100 days is a positive and empowering thing to do.

I don't like the start of the year. Much as I love Christmas, the aftermath of all that eating and drinking coupled with the lack of routine leaves me unsettled and psychologically hungover. That, plus the dark days and bad weather, means January always feels like an uphill month. I struggle with it. Having a plan to put one foot in front of the other gives me a structure that makes me feel better.

The 100-day chain is also great motivation - when you've done 67 days, no matter how much you don't want to walk on day 68, chances are you'll still go out rather than throw away all you've achieved.

And the benefits of walking are just wonderful. Starting from the top down, it's brilliant for your head. The endorphins lift your mood - exercise is as good as anti-depressants at treating mild to moderate depression. The rhythmic aerobic nature of it is soothing and meditative. And 'green exercise' - exercise you take outdoors - is particularly beneficial for your mental health in a way that gym-based exercise isn't.

But it's also great for your bones and joints - weight-bearing exercise helps prevent osteoporosis and keeps arthritic joints mobile. It's good for your musculature, making you stronger, toned and more mobile, which aids independence and decreases falls into your older years.

It's brilliant for cardiovascular health as regular walking lowers blood pressure and resting heart rate. It's great for your respiratory system, helping your lungs to clear and reducing breathing problems.

It increases your metabolism so you burn more calories, therefore helping to maintain a healthy weight - which reduces your risk of type two diabetes, cancer, infertility and a whole host of other diseases.

And you feel better. You'll feel less stressed. It helps you think. Your sleep improves. You'll have more energy. I find exercise works like a dynamo. Even though I've gone for a walk I have more energy after walking than if I hadn't.

Just because I start #100daysofwalking on January 1 doesn't mean you have to. This may be day 19 for me but it could be day one for you. Just start. It is the easiest, most rewarding challenge you'll take on.

Fad diets, crazy boot camps, "detox teas" and loads of other nonsense are being flogged to you at the start of the year. Gyms are full of people doing stuff that they will stop doing by February and won't revisit for the rest of the year. Because programmes so extreme that you can maintain them only for a week or two are never going to bring about real change. One hundred days of walking is sustainable because the best change you can make is the one you might stick with.

Lots of people who started with me last year or the year before went on and have done #365daysofwalking. They kept it up because it's manageable and they, like me, feel the real benefit.

So why not make the one small change that makes a difference? And let's face it - our health service is so bad at the minute that anything you can do to help you avoid needing it has got to be a good thing.

@ciarakellydoc. You can follow the progress of thousands of people around the country - and beyond - undertaking this walking challenge across all social media platforms using #100daysofwalking

Sunday Independent

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