The Power of the Humble Walk

02/06/2016 12:10 | Updated 02 June 2016

As this year's National Walking Month draws to a close, I've been reflecting on what this May was like for me, for Living Streets, and for all those who received our #Try20 message loud and clear - that walking for just 20 minutes a day holds so many long-term health benefits.

May was a fantastic month, in which we saw support flood in from all quarters - from media outlets up and down the country who published our research and galvanised the public to #Try20, to partner organisations and celebrities who endorsed our campaign, and from our friends at TfL to the politicians who joined us on walks to work and Walk to School Week. In fact, media coverage of National Walking Month was more than double that of last year.


Walk to School Week launches outside Scottish Parliament with Strider, Miles Briggs MSP and children from Abbeyhill Primary School

And this is the bit that has really stood out for me - just how widespread this support has been. In some ways, this raises my hopes that the mood of the UK is shifting. As a nation, we are becoming increasingly health conscious - barely a day goes by without a headline on the impact of diet on health, and recent research showed that millennials tend to favour exercise over drinking. However, for many the 'healthy' lifestyle of the day, with gym passes and expensive classes, is a long way out of reach. Health shouldn't go hand in hand with wealth, but so often it seems to.

This is what sets the humble walk apart. Walking is the most democratic form of exercise on the planet. It's free. You don't have to be of any particular standard to do it. You don't have to train or go to a designated place to enjoy it. You don't have to invest in special gear, or pay an annual or monthly fee to take part. Best of all, anyone - physical capacity permitting - can bring walking into their daily or weekly routine, getting from A to B, working to their own ability and within the bounds of their own environments.

What walking does is make exercise accessible, affordable, and crucially, doable. Almost all of us can identify with the stress involved in trying to shoehorn time for an exercise class, football game or gym session into an already overcrowded week. And I think more of us than would like to admit it know what it's like to feel the weeks tick by without having done much exercise at all.

But the strength of support we've seen for National Walking Month 2016 goes to show how much the public is getting behind everyday walking. We've had thousands of people pledging to #Try20 - more than double the number we anticipated. We've had offers of support from journalists, employers, transport bodies, schools, academics and politicians, and we've spread our message far and wide about what walking can do for our health and well-being.

So as National Walking Month draws to a close, let's make sure that we remember the humble walk - the daily yet often overlooked exercise. The thing you can do without having to plan, without having to buy anything special to wear, without having to set aside time for a post-exercise shower. Let's make sure we remember it way beyond the end of May, making walking part of our daily life and feeling the multitude of benefits walking can bring.


On my walk to work with Jane Ellison, Public Health Minister.