Walking is something uniquely human
that sets us apart from the other apes. The reasons why we chose to walk as the only way to move around are still not clear. Scientists calculate that the separation between men and apes dates back to between 7 and 9 million years ago. Walking is a natural movement that is learnt in early childhood. And simple as it may look, it involves balancing and coordinating more than 20 muscles. It has taken millions of years of evolution. It is a process of physical adaptation that humans have acquired, which we all share, which is developed from birth to give us a unique independence of movement. It is a small miracle that has enabled us to rule the World.
But only 12% of the English population exercises regularly. Have the vast majority of our fellow citizens forgotten the pleasure of walking? The lack of regular exercise and, particularly, reduced walking capacity can lead to overweight, obesity and heart problems. However, according to WHO studies, walking just 30 minutes every day is enough to maintain health. This is how Jean Jacques Rousseau described the pleasure of walking in his book Emile, or on education. It seems that simple pleasures haven’t changed much since 1762 :
‘I can only think of one way of travelling pleasanter than travelling on horseback, and that is to travel on foot. You start at your own time, you stop when you will, you do as much or as little as you choose. You see the country, you turn off to the right or left; you examine anything which interests you, you stop to admire every view. Do I see a stream, I wander by its banks; a leafy wood, I seek its shade; a cave, I enter it; a quarry, I study its geology. If I like a place, I stop there. As soon as I am weary of it, I go on.
I am independent of horses and postilions I need not stick to regular routes or good roads; I go anywhere where a man can go; I see all that a man can see; and as I am quite independent of everybody, I enjoy all the freedom man can enjoy. What varied pleasures we enjoy in this delightful way of travelling, not to speak of increasing health and a cheerful spirit. I notice that those who ride in nice, well-padded carriages are always wrapped in thought, gloomy, fault-finding, or sick; while those who go on foot are always merry, light-hearted, and delighted with everything. How cheerful we are when we get near our lodging for the night! How savoury is the coarse food! How we linger at table enjoying our rest! How soundly we sleep on a hard bed! If you only want to get to a place you may ride in a post-chaise; if you want to travel you must go on foot.’
It is the freedom of walking and its regenerative power that make it so special. Whether it’s hiking on remote mountain paths or strolling in the city, walking is an activity that can be practised as your mood and objectives take you.