There's something really quite special about the simple act of walking; heading out into the great outdoors, allowing yourself to become truly immersed in nature, and enjoying your surroundings at a slightly slower pace than usual. As something that the majority of us do each day without ever really thinking about it, walking is without doubt one of the easiest forms of exercise to take up. There is a walk available for people of all ages and all abilities; from gentle coastal rambles to more challenging mountainous hikes, which often allow you to reach places that are inaccessible by road, rail or air.
A walking holiday provides the ultimate in escapism - in a world which seems to be moving at an increasingly faster pace, walking provides you with an opportunity to slow down, rejuvenate and simply appreciate the wonderful beauty of the world around you - and provides a whole host of health benefits, too.
Read on to discover more about why you should be considering a walking holiday, as well as three of our favourite travel destinations to explore on foot.
As well as being an enjoyable pastime, walking is one of the most effective and easiest ways to keep fit. Walking improves cardiovascular fitness which promotes reduced body fat, helps your body to maintain a healthy weight, and aids in the strengthening of bones and muscles. In turn, this helps to prevent a variety of chronic disease and health conditions and helps manage any pre-existing ones, such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. Other health benefits include reduced inflammation and stiffness in joints, making walking an ideal pain reliever for those suffering from arthritis.
There are many studies showing that regular walkers live a healthier, and often longer, life. Harvard Medical School conducted a study in which they discovered that walking for 2.5 hours a week, the equivalent of just 21 minutes of walking each day, can help to reduce the risk of heart disease by 30%. Studies have even shown that walking can be more effective at reducing heart disease than running; a study by scientists at California's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory observed participants between the ages of 18 and 80 over a total of six years, and found that while running reduced the risk of heart disease by 4.5%, walking brought the risk down by a remarkable 9.3%.
The multitude of health benefits that walking provides are not purely physical, however. Walking has also been found to have a significant positive impact on mental wellbeing. The almost meditative nature of walking for enjoyment can have an incredible impact on those suffering from anxiety and depression, releasing endorphins which help to improve self-esteem, mood, sleep quality and stress levels. For the older generation, walking has also been found to strengthen mental sharpness and brain ability - in particular improving memory function, with a number of studies showing a correlation between regular walking and a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease or dementia.
Where to go
In addition to the multitude of physical and mental health benefits, walking is the best way to see a destination up close. Exploring on foot allows you to put yourself in the middle of beautiful scenery, see the finer details and take in your surroundings slowly. Here are three of our favourite walking destinations…
The Swiss Alps are one of the most visually stunning walking destinations imaginable; with exquisite lakes, superb lush scenery and soaring snow-capped mountain peaks, as well as a variety of wildlife to discover, including wild mountain goats. With a range of walking trails, from relaxing lakeside strolls to more strenuous hikes traversing the rocky foothills, the Swiss Alps offer a walking route for people of all abilities, and promise a truly unforgettable walking experience.
Boasting miles upon miles of stunning coastlines, old-time charm and eight stunning National Parks, it is unsurprising that Croatia is rapidly rising in popularity as a holiday destination. Croatia's natural beauty lends itself perfectly to a walking holiday - spend a day walking through the UNESCO-listed site of Plitvice Lakes National Park exploring the sixteen sparkling lakes, connected by a series of cascading waterfalls and accessible via a series of wooden walkways.
With two spectacular National Parks - the North York Moors National Park and the Yorkshire Dales National Park, Yorkshire offers some of the best opportunities for scenic walking in the UK. Walk along the stunning coastline from Ravenscar to Robin Hood's Bay and be rewarded with a splendid view of the quaint village, with an assortment of traditional, red-roofed fishing cottages rising up from the waters below; a view rated as one of the best in Yorkshire. Or, explore the vast Yorkshire Dales. With its sprawling landscapes, stone-built villages and peaceful atmosphere, as well as a wide range of walking trails for people of all abilities, the Yorkshire Dales is an ideal place to explore on foot.