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Walk off those Mars Bars - in the Yorkshire Dales

Friday 11 January 2008

Our countryside commentator John Sheard, who has always believed that legs are made for walking, muses over the latest project from Natural England: ten good ways of getting Britain back on its feet

EVEN as a child, I never much cared for Mars Bars. They made me feel sick for half an hour after eating one and then downright awful an hour or so later. It is only recently that food scientists have described this as a "sugar rush" followed by a sudden hangover like "crash" - symptoms all too evident in hyper-active and often disruptive children these days.

If these thoughts seem a little removed from rural issues, let me explain an arcane piece of information that came my way this week, courtesy of Natural England (NE), the Government's countryside quango.

Walk off those Mars Bars - in the Yorkshire Dales
Walk off those Mars Bars - in the Yorkshire Dales

At a time when thousands, possibly millions, of Brits are trying to shed the extra pounds they put on over Christmas and New Year, NE pointed out that that people who walk just 30 minutes a day can lose the equivalent of eating six Mars Bars a week, and that is an awful lot of calories: 2,000 to be precise.

The reason for this advice is that Natural England has just launched its "Walking the way to Health" (WHI) project which - to my utter amazement in view of many of the daft schemes this Government has launched in the past decade - seems to be a pretty good idea.

Issuing a New Year message, NE Chairman Sir Martin Doughty conjured up "The Outdoor Gym," the place where people can get healthy exercise, usually for free, and at the same time - in the countryside at least - enjoy superb scenery and catch a glimpse of our wildlife actually in the wild.

Now I know people who spend hundreds of pounds on gyms every year - I believe in big cities the cost can run to over £1,000 - and frankly don't seem to get much benefit. Nor do they get what I consider to be two of the supreme benefits of being in the great outdoors, fresh air and peace and quiet. Most gyms I have ever seen (not many, I admit) reek of stale breath and sweat and pulsate to the beat of rock music.

Now, quite rightly, much of this NE message is aimed at townies, urging them to go out for a walk in their local parks of which there are many in Yorkshire, even in small country towns like Skipton. But for us here in the Yorkshire Dales, not to take advantage of hundreds of miles of spectacular walking is quite frankly a pitiable waste. The NE has listed ten of benefits of walking - a list well worth studying:

  • Walking in your local park or in the great outdoors available on your doorstep is one of the greenest way to exercise as it doesn't leave a carbon footprint
  • The outdoors also provides great opportunities for wildlife spotting
  • Exercising outside can improve concentration for several hours afterwards and makes you more resilient to stress or helps cope with stress
  • £2.9 billion has been assigned to environmental schemes in the countryside between now and 2013. This is your money being used for environmental benefits - get out there and enjoy it!
  • If you walk for 30 minutes a day you can burn off 2,000 calories a week (the equivalent of six Mars bars) or 150 calories per mile. That may not seem like a lot but walking and keeping fit also increases your metabolism so it's good for you even when you're not doing it
  • Your stress levels fall within minutes of contact with nature - good for body and mind
  • Walking crosses all generations and everyone can get involved. Research has shown that if children haven't had the opportunity to be in the natural environmental on their own before the age of 11 they're unlikely to use it in later life and therefore benefit from the stress relieving qualities the outdoors can bring
  • Walking protects our joints from wear and tear thanks to muscle build-up
  • Wherever you are in England, you are never more than 50 miles from a National Trail. There are four in Yorkshire alone.
  • Walking improves your immune system for up to 24 hours after a walk which can help prevent you from catching a cold.

I heartily recommend people worried about the Mars Bar effect to study the list of WHI walks on www.naturalengland.org.uk and click on the Breathing Places website. For once in a while, the Nanny State seems to have come up with an idea that could actually do little Jack and Jill (and their parents) some good. It's fun, too.

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