On a warm summer day, there are few things more enjoyable than going for a walk. Walking is free, easy to do, and it has some powerful benefits. Walking isn’t just great exercise and a chance to enjoy some fresh air – it also improves circulation, supports your joints, improves sleep, can help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, strengthens your muscles, and helps to maintain a healthy weight. Just going for a quick stroll can help boost your mood, alleviate stress, and clear your mind and help you feel more relaxed.
If you’re tired of walking around your neighbourhood and need some new inspiration, have a look at 10 different walks you can enjoy this summer.
1. Forest Walks
Although we cover country walks separately, forest walks deserve their own section, because they’re the only place you can practice ‘forest bathing’. Forest bathing originated in Japan in the 1980s as a physiological and psychological form of exercise, and an antidote to technological and urban burnout. In Japan forest bathing is called ‘shinrin-yoku’, which means ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’, and people believe it can alleviate depression, anxiety and stress, as well as boost the immune system, lower blood pressure and improve sleep. In recent years forest bathing has become more widely adopted in the West. In the UK, The Woodland Trust have recently suggested forest bathing be among a range of non-medical therapies and activities recommended by doctors.
You can practice forest bathing simply by heading to your nearest forest and connecting with your surroundings. There is something magical about being in the forest and becoming aware of the scent of trees, the light falling through the leaves, the fresh air, and the quiet sounds of the forest. Luckily, forests (or woods) are pretty easy to find wherever you are in the UK. Head over to the Woodland Trust site to find your nearest wood or forest, or check out the National Trust’s suggestions for woodland walks.
2. Nordic walking
Nordic walking, or as it’s sometimes called, pole walking, originated in Scandinavian countries as a way for skiers to train and stay strong during their off-season. It’s an incredibly beneficial form of exercise because it’s a total body workout. It works all the lower body muscles like glutes, calves, hamstrings, and quads, as well as the shoulder and neck muscles, triceps, forearms, upper and lower back muscles, obliques, and abdominals.
Nordic walking is very simple: you hold onto walking poles by the hand grip, and by pushing down on them as you walk, you’re using muscle groups that don’t usually get a workout. Because it provides plenty of stability, Nordic walking is very popular among people who suffer from joint pain or tension. It can be done on hard surfaces like pavements, or soft surfaces like grass or even sand – just make sure you’re using proper walking poles. Amazon have a good selection you can check out here. If you’re interested in learning, you might like to read our Beginner’s guide to Nordic walking, or you could learn the basic techniques involved by watching the video below.
3. Food walks
For the foodies among us, few things can be better than a walk that’s designed around eating. Food walks – ie. walking from eatery to eatery while trying new snacks – are great ways to discover new food venues in your local area, sample new dishes, support the local community, and get some exercise. The health benefits of gentle walking after eating are beneficial too, and plenty of studies suggest that this doesn’t only aid digestion, it also lowers blood sugar levels.
What’s fun about food walks is that you can do them in many ways: you can go solo, with a friend(s) or partner, or even sign up to one of the UK’s many guided food tours – many of which have recently restarted after months of being closed. Whatever type of food you’re into, wherever you’re based, there’s a food walk out there that’s perfect for you. Whether you want to try chocolates in Brighton, visit food markets in London, or try the spiciest food in York, there are literally thousands of food walks you can sign up for. Some of these you have to book in advance, but others you can just join on the day.
Check out some of the top food tours in the UK to get inspired, or if you prefer a country walk, you can plan a route where you stop off from pub to pub, refuelling with a snack or drink (or two) at each. If this sounds up your street, you may want to download the PubWalks app, which suggests the best country pubs in your local area. Or, if you want to plan your own food walk, you might want to have a read of this helpful article.
4. Historical or cultural walks
If you’re interested in history, then going on a historical walk, or cultural walk, is a great way to spend the day. Wherever you live in the UK, history is all around us, and sometimes we tend to overlook the most fascinating cultural gems when they’re right on our doorstep. So many UK streets are steeped in history and mystery, and many buildings are hundreds of years old. If you live in London, there are literally thousands of historical walks you can take – have a read of some suggestions here.
Of course, you don’t have to be based in London to enjoy a historical walk – and you don’t even have to head to a city. The Great British countryside is filled with Roman relics, Bronze age burial grounds and crumbling old castles, and admiring ancient sites is a great way to add a sense of learning and purpose to make a country walk even more memorable. For more inspiration, have a read of this article on 10 of the best historical walks throughout the UK, or check out this site on British heritage walks. This YouTube channel also has a great selection of cultural walks in British cities, from Canterbury to Bristol to York, and many more. Alternatively, if you’d like to plan a larger trip and tick off various historical sites along the way, have a read of our article 28 of the best historical sites to visit in the UK.
5. Social walks
If you’re planning to catch up with family and friends, why not kill two birds with one stone and get some gentle exercise in too? Walking in the open air can be an extremely sociable activity (even whilst socially distancing!), and can improve our sense of community too. Group activities like walking are great ways to improve your fitness while strengthening bonds with friends. Because walking allows you to be present, and you’re less distracted by your phone or things around you, it can also be a great way to seek advice and support from people you trust, or open up about a tough time you might be having.
You can set up a social walk yourself by planning to meet with friends and finding a route that suits you all – or alternatively, you can join one of the many walking groups in the UK. Check out the Ramblers website to find walking groups near you. If you’re single, you might even want to consider a sole traveller walking holiday, which is a fun way to make new friends while enjoying a break, and of course, getting some exercise in. You can find out more about different walking and hiking groups, and how to choose the right one, by reading this informative Countryfile article.
6. Country walks
When thinking of different types of walks to enjoy, for most of us, country walks are the first thing that spring to mind. Strolling through the green UK countryside, enjoying the fresh air and warmth of the sun is already a passion for many of us, yet the benefits of country walks run much deeper than simply enjoying a day out.
Ambling through our country’s gently undulating hills is also a great way to feel more connected to our natural world and feel more inspired (celebrated poets like William Wordsworth and William Blake credited a country walk as their cure to writer’s block). Many studies suggest that after exercise, cognitive function is enhanced, and that walking is the best catalyst to creativity – plus, there’s a unique feeling of joy that comes from reaching the top of a hill and seeing a view you never knew existed. Wherever you live in the UK, the beautiful countryside is never too far away: check out the National Trust site to find local country walks, or alternatively, have a look on the Walking Britain site to find the prettiest rural routes near you. Just remember to wear good socks and pack plenty of water!
7. Dog walks
If you’re lucky enough to have a dog, you’ll probably already know how much they love going for walks. Regular walks are just as beneficial for your dog’s health as your own, as obesity in pets is linked to osteoarthritis, cardiovascular disease, liver disease, and insulin resistance. Most dogs should be walked at least once a day, although the breed of your dog, as well as their age and fitness will affect how long or energetic their walk should be. Dog walking should be relaxing and enjoyable for both you and your dog, so if your dog tends to pull at their lead, bark or jump around too much, there are lots of steps you can take to minimise this: have a read of this article on dog walking tips.
If you want to spice up your dog walks, then consider inviting a friend along who has a dog too. You’ll be able to enjoy some human company, and your dog will get a playmate! Or if you don’t have a dog of your own, consider joining a friend for a walk with theirs, or asking if you can simply borrow their dog to go for a walk. Walking with a furry companion can be a lot of fun, and can make your walks much more interesting.
Photowalks are another great way to get a new perspective on your surroundings and find a new appreciation for a summer’s day – plus, they’ll help you develop your photography skills too. Time can easily run away with you when you’re looking at the world through a viewfinder and creativity starts to flow. Where, and how you go about your photowalk is entirely up to you. If you like to plan, you can figure out a route in advance – and you might find the AllTrails app helpful here. Simply enter the name of the place you want to explore and the app will suggest picturesque trails you can follow. Alternatively, you can roam free and go wherever your feet take you.
During your walk, you can photograph anything that captures your interest. If you’re walking in a city, you might enjoy photographing old buildings, pedestrians, and bustling street scenes, and if you take your photowalk out in the countryside, you’re sure to find plenty of inspiration in the natural beauty around you. Finding creative inspiration while exercising is very satisfying, and as an added bonus, you’ll return home with some lovely photos of your day.
9. City walks
If you live in or within easy reach of a city, then you don’t have to visit the countryside to reap the benefits of a good walk. You can gain a new perspective on your hometown by pretending to be a tourist for the day and visiting all your local attractions. Or, you can hop in the car and visit another city where you can spend the day walking the streets, discovering secret lanes and stunning city vistas. City walks are a great reminder that we can overlook so much beauty simply because it’s in an urban setting. But there’s plenty to take in, whether it be the late afternoon sunlight glinting on a canal, or the clean, sleek lines of modern architecture.
No matter where you live, we’re sure you’ll be able to find a city walk to suit you – and because UK cities have become much more walkable in recent years, with major investments in green spaces and the redesign of old industrial areas, you’ll probably be surprised at how many intriguing routes are right on your doorstep. Whether it’s Victorian industrial cities like Manchester, Regency cities like Bath, port cities like Bristol and Liverpool, or cities of learning, like Cambridge and Oxford – going on a city walk can open your eyes to what your doorstep has to offer. For inspiration, have a read of this article on great city walks in the UK, from Aberdeen to Derby, or check out YouTube and watch a few videos on some of the most inspiring city walks in the country.
10. Mindfulness walks
Mindful walks are all about getting back to the present, observing different sights, sounds and smells as you walk, and trying to be more aware of how your body feels. Many of us think about different things as we walk – often things we’re worried or stressed about – and so mindfulness walks are great ways to reduce anxiety and boost your mood, as well as restore your sense of focus. Going for a mindfulness walk on a summer’s day can be an enormously pleasurable experience: you may feel a new appreciation for feelings like the sun on your skin or the breeze on your face, and become more aware of lovely scents like freshly-cut grass, sun-cream, or flowers.
If you like, you can go on a guided mindfulness walk. You could listen to a 10 minute walking meditation on the Mindful website, or download the walking meditation on the Headspace app, which offers a two-week free trial. YouTube also has some great walking meditation videos – we’ve selected an example which you can find here. Alternatively, you can just walk by yourself and really immerse yourself in your surroundings, paying attention to any thoughts or feelings that arise. Mindfulness walking is a great way to unite the body and mind while getting some fresh air and enjoying being outside. You can read more about the benefits of mindfulness in our Introduction to mindfulness.
Walking has a host of benefits, and many of these are just as important for our mental health as for our physical health. There’s an ideal walk for everyone – whether you like vigorous hikes and clambering hills or whether you prefer leisurely city strolls – whether you see walking as an opportunity for quiet reflection and some precious ‘me-time, or whether you like walking with friends and having a good catch up.
You don’t have to get your walking shoes on and stroll for miles to feel the benefit – just a walk to your local park (or even food market!) can make a big difference. However you like to walk, it will always be beneficial – for your health, for your brain, for finding creativity, and for reconnecting with nature.
Have you gone on any good walks lately, or discovered a new style of walking you enjoy? We’d love to hear from you. Join the conversation on the hobbies, sports, and leisure section of the Rest Less community forum, or leave a comment below.