Walking in a winter wonderland

Bedgebury National Pinetum, Kent, in winter

It’s cold outside, but that’s no reason to stay cooped up indoors. Walk this way for great health benefits and stunning winter scenery, says Sarah Brealey.

Fans of winter walking know that it brings pleasures all of its own. The beauty spots that are thronged with crowds in summer are often serenely quiet in January and February, plus there are moments of real beauty, from frost-jewelled cobwebs to fields blanketed in snow. Even on an overcast day, there’s plenty to take in.

Winter is a great time to spot birds, because there’s less leaf cover to camouflage the many species that migrate here for the season. It’s good for archaeology and geology, too – when the bracken and other plants wither, it’s easier to make out signs of old settlements or rock formations.

Most of us could benefit from moving more, and walking is a great year-round activity. You don’t have to be out in the country either – a brisk walk to the shops or a walk round a town park is just as good. If you’re in the city, try going for a history walk. You can look out for blue plaques and other signs of notable events as you wander.

Before you start

BHF physical activity specialist Lisa Purcell says: “Walking is one of the best ways to get your recommended 150 minutes a week of physical activity. Regular moderate-intensity walking can help reduce your risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity and osteoporosis.”

To stay comfortable, wear layers you can take off as you warm up. If conditions are wintry, many outdoor shops sell ice grips that fit onto your normal shoes, but if you have balance problems, it may be best to wait for another day.

Remember to check with your GP before you start a new exercise regime, especially if you have a health condition. Whatever your fitness level, start off walking slowly for the first few minutes and build up gradually. Reduce your pace again at the end of your walk to allow your body to cool down slowly.

Follow our guide:

If you're a beginner

  • Make walking part of your daily routine. Opt for stairs instead of lifts or escalators, build a walk into regular journeys, perhaps by getting off public transport a couple of stops early, or make it a social event by inviting friends along.
  • Get your posture right – stand tall with eyes looking straight ahead and chin up. Let your shoulders fall down and back and pull in your stomach. When walking, your heel should hit the ground first, and you should push off with your toe.
  • Start off at a level that suits you, even if it’s just for a few minutes at a time – something is better than nothing. Aim to build up to at least ten minutes, increasing the number of sessions you do each day.

If you’re moderately fit

  • To improve fitness, try interval walking: first, walk at a moderate intensity. This will make you feel warmer and breathe harder than normal but you should still be able to have a conversation. Speed up so you’re walking vigorously for a minute, then return to moderate intensity. Repeat.
  • Carry on increasing the intensity, time and distance of your walks as your fitness improves.
  • Consider Nordic walking, where you use poles to help propel you along in a way that uses your upper body as well as your legs. Find a class or instructor near you by calling 0848 260 9339 or visit the Nordic Walking website.

If you’re very fit

  • Vary your terrain so it’s more challenging.
  • Always stretch after a long walk to help prevent muscle aches.
  • Don’t forget a bottle of water, and perhaps a piece of fruit and a sandwich for longer walks.
  • Try a challenge such as a BHF walk. We’ve got everything from urban walks to treks in Iceland, Peru and the Great Wall of China. Call 0845 130 8663 or visit our events page for more information.

Read our guide to the best winter walks around the country

Get more information

You can also look up walking routes near you at Walking Britain or, for organised health walks, visit Walking for Health or call 020 7339 8541.

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