We Asked Four Athletes Why They Love Walking So Much

    Four people walking at sunset
    Published: 7 May 2021

    Even after a year of only being able to go for walks, it still seems that the nation loves exploring the wilderness, taking a moment of solitude and getting some steps in through walking. 

    This National Walking Month we wanted to re-discover the reasons behind going for a walk, and why taking the long route through nature can often be one of the most beneficial things for our mental and physical health. But what is it about walking that really keeps us engaged and enjoying the slow-paced activity so much? 

    We caught up with a few of our Ambassadors and Performance Champs to find out why walking is an integral part of their daily lives, what walks they love the most and why they continue getting their steps in even when the weather isn’t the best.

    Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill, DBE – Vitality Ambassador & former track and field athlete
    I like to switch off completely from my phone and technology and enjoy where I am completely.’ 

    Dame Jessica Ennis Hill out walking

    Instead of listening to a podcast or music whilst out and about, former track and field athlete Jessica Ennis-Hill loves to find a moment of peace and quiet. One of Jessica’ favourite places to get walking is the Peak District because there are ‘So many unexplored routes and adventures. The scenery is so stunning, dramatic and forever changing.’

    Even though Jessica loves switching off, that’s because she gets to spend some quality family time and has said she loves ‘going on walks with my husband and kids and now our little pup Fern (although she can only do short ones at the moment).’  The reason that Jessica enjoys walking so much is to ‘to spend time in great outdoors with the kids so they can have adventures, exercise through play and exploring and it’s great for our mental health to switch off.’  

    Jonny Wilkinson, CBE – Vitality Ambassador & former English rugby union player
    Walking is a very powerful way to reset myself and bring myself back into the present moment.’

    Jonny Wilkinson enjoying walking outside

    Former English rugby union player, Jonny Wilkinson, is a big advocate of walking for mental health and has a few spots that he loves exploring. ‘I have many favourite walks and have been blessed to have lived up in the North-East countryside, near to Windsor Great Park and in the South of France too. Northumberland provides truly wild and wonderful public footpaths to follow everywhere, Windsor Park has so many beautifully natural and protected forests for exploring whereas the Port D’Alons in St. Cyr sur Mer near Bandol in France incorporates the Mediterranean sea for good measure.’

    Although Jonny has many favourite paths to take, there is one that really stands out from the rest: ‘The Port D’Alons walk was a particular favourite for my wife and I, normally in the early evening sunshine after my rugby training had finished. In that area it is possible to experience a huge sand dune, a forest, a meadow often frequented by deer and wild boar as well as rocky crags, the sea, the beach and a quiet port too all in the same stroll – if you were willing to spend a couple of hours on your feet. The views are incredible.’ 

    Walking might seem like a good way for us to get our steps in, but for Jonny, they provide more than just that – ‘I love to go walking with my wife as the environment and the energy of these outings always opens up deeper discussions, deeper sharing and deeper forms of communication. It is often during our walks that we unearth the things that really matter.’

    As a mental health advocate, we were keen to understand how Jonny feels about walking to support better mental health.In my opinion walking is a very powerful way to reset myself and bring myself back into the present moment. By letting go of tension, by grounding my body and by focusing upon my breathing I can completely transform my energy in a very short period. When I walk in the fresh air and surround myself with the countryside then the effect is multiplied. For me, the trees, plant life and wild life are an amazing example for us all as they are not trying to go anywhere, achieve anything, or become anything special. They are simply being all they can be, accepting and responding effortlessly with their surroundings and living fully fledged. This tranquil sense of fulfilment is what I benefit from when I walk in these fantastic places.’

    And the soundtrack to accompany Jonny on a walk? ‘Undoubtedly I prefer to listen to nature as there is no better soundtrack than the voice of the infinitely powerful universal intelligence in action. The more you let go, the more you hear. The more you let go the more you can start to move in tune with it. 

    Crista Cullen, MBE – Vitality Performance Champion & England field hockey player
    We need to explore, feel alive and give ourselves a break.’

    Family out walking together along a road

    Walking doesn’t necessarily need to be in a magical place to still feel beneficial as Olympic Gold Medal winner and field hockey player, Crista Cullen, knows as her favourite walk is ‘Anywhere new or in and amongst nature.’

    Nature has been proven to be beneficial for so many reasons and Crista says her favourite walks are ‘anything in nature, with the sights, smells and sounds that make it different every time. I am so lucky that I can go out and see wildlife on every walk that I take on the conservation area that I live. It makes it special and made better by seeing the dogs roaming free.’

    Opting to go for walks either with friends or family, but mostly her springer spaniel Midge, finding that walking is beneficial ‘For a variety of reasons, fresh air and freedom. It makes me feel alive again – we are cooped up inside looking at screens for most of our working lives now. We need to explore, feel alive and give ourselves a break.’

    James Rodwell – Vitality Performance Champion & English professional rugby player
    I really cherish my family time and getting out of the house creates lots of amazing memories.’

    James Rodwell and family out walking together

    Nature seems to be a common theme when it comes to getting out for a walk and professional rugby player James Rodwell agrees with his favourite walk being ones in the woods with his family. But what is it about the woods that James and his family love so much? ’As a family we like to explore woodland areas, my two young boys love climbing trees (and so do i!) and looking for bugs so going into woodland areas is perfect for this.’ 

    James said there were quite a few reasons he loved going walking but mainly because ‘Getting fresh air is really important for me and my family and allowing my boys to run free makes them really happy. Because I am away a lot I really cherish my family time and getting out of the house creates lots of amazing memories.’ 

    Sometimes James utilises walking as a way to ‘clear my mind and increase my activity if I have been busy at a desk all day.’ And what is it that keeps him company on those walks? ‘If I am on my own I will usually listen to a podcast – at the moment I am really in the High Performance podcast by Jake Humphrey and Damian Hughes. When with the family it is all about that quality time and enjoying every moment with them.’

    Want to get walking but feeling over it? We have some ways to re-invigorate your walk and fall back in love with walking if you’re feeling over it.

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