There are few exercises simpler than walking and yet the benefits are unmatched. Four Health & Wellbeing readers explain how putting one foot in front of the other has transformed their work, health and happiness

“Walking is one of my biggest business assets”

It’s often been said that exercise ‘clears the head’ and that’s certainly been the case for Sarah Jolley-Jarvis (above) who’s found walking has been instrumental in problem-solving and making key decisions in her business.

“I made the decision to set up my own business whilst out walking with my husband, and since then we’ve talked through investments, product offers, changes to business structures and the direction of the businesses we own while out walking,” she muses. “I honestly can’t remember the last big decision we made that wasn’t mulled over or raised while on a walk.”

Sarah says walking has been key to getting clear on her goals. “It really helps me think, process and come to a decision that feels right for me, my family and my business,” she explains. “We have two routes we love: one is for ‘emergency talks’when life throws something at you that needs processing, and a longer route we do for planning chats; when we want to talk about life goals, business direction and family.”

For Sarah, the benefits are unparalleled. “Walking gives me clarity and the ability to really think, whilst taking away the noise and distractions of everyday life,” she says. “It’s a great way to get perspective on where you – and your challenges – fit in the world: there’s nothing like standing at the top of a mountain or large hill to give you perspective on how small even the biggest challenge really is, and what is truly important to you.”

“Walking helps me manage my arthritis”

Managing inflammatory disease can make high-impact exercise tricky for Jen Parker (above), but walking helps mind her physical and mental health.

“Before my diagnosis with ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis and fibromyalgia, I loved running, but my joint problems made it an absolute no-no, so I needed to find an alternative,” Jen explains. “I tried a few different forms of low impact exercise, but they all came with their drawbacks. Swimming left me with endless illnesses thanks to my immunosuppressant medication, while yoga and Pilates made me self-conscious because the teacher would have to modify the moves for me. Then, I started walking and found I really enjoyed getting out in the fresh air. I loved it so much that I even did a walking challenge in 2011, walking 16 miles in the Derbyshire Dales with a team of family and colleagues to raise money for Arthritis Research UK.”

Getting a dog, a pug-shih-tzu cross named Doug, has helped Jen stay consistent. “No matter how I’m feeling, I walk him when I get up. This relieves the pain and stiffness I feel every morning by getting me moving and loosened up much quicker. Walking has improved so many different aspects of my life. The biggest by far is feeling more in control of my health. Even if my pain levels are sky-high, I know I’ll feel better once I’ve been out, even if it’s just for 20 minutes. The inflammation I experience causes a lot of pain so it’s tempting to just veg out on the couch, but walking has kept me mobile, helped me retain flexibility, and kept my mental health in a better place.”

“I’ve walked all over the world”

From South America to Nepal, walking has taken Polly Arrowsmith (right) all over the globe and has been the catalyst for adventure and self-discovery.

Walking for enjoyment has always been part of Polly’s life. “My dad was a keen walker, so even as young as six, we would go walking up to 15-20 miles a day,” she recalls. But, it wasn’t until adulthood that this simple activity allowed Polly to enjoy some once-ina- lifetime experiences.

“My sister and I travelled Southeast Asia for 18 months and did a lot of trekking. We partially completed the Annapurna trek covering 120 miles. We also did a walking tour at Chitwan National Park, Nepal, where we encountered alligators, a sloth bear and a mother and a baby rhino near us in the long grass. We had to run zig-zag and hide,” she shares.

On another trek, Polly walked the flatlands of Venezuela where she experienced cattle farming, caught piranha fish for dinner and saw pink dolphins. She’s also walked trails in New Zealand, the Grand Canyon and the Amazon.

As a bronchiectasis sufferer, completing these treks has been no mean feat for Polly. “50 percent of my lungs are scarred and my oxygen saturation levels are below average, but walking keeps my heart in great condition. Plus, I love walking and I have had so many unforgettable experiences on foot.”

“Walks let us reconnect as a family”

For Megan Lomax (above), walking has become a family activity that provides an opportunity to connect with the kids away from devices and day-to-day distractions.

“In London, space indoors is always tight, so getting out when you have kids is a must,” says Megan. “With young kids, the painful part is the getting out bit but once you’re out, everything seems calmer. Now the children are older, a walk means time away from the screen and homework. It’s a great way to have a chat without tension.

It’s not as intense. You walk along looking ahead, not at each other, and it’s easy to stop talking and walk quietly for a while if needed. You can ponder on things, then start the conversation again.”

Megan likes to pack a picnic for family walks too. “It gives a feeling of arrival, and we usually look for a good spot on the map where we can stop and eat before heading out. With lockdowns and now the continued working from home situation, walking has been a crucial way for us to take a break, get some fresh air, mull things over and just get out of the house.

“Lockdown was challenging with our son who is autistic and really didn’t cope well. We finally had a breakthrough when we went to the Lake District. We’d booked into a place with no internet, telly or phone signal and I was quite nervous as to how it was going to work. But when he got out to walk, he started talking and relaxed. It was amazing.

“When I’m out on my own, walking gives me head space and when I’m out with the kids it gives us an opportunity to chat without distractions like homework, telly and phones. It also allows quiet companionship along with friendly banter and debate.”