I confess that I have never been sporty – I only played for the school second XV. But I have always enjoyed walking. Mad as it may seem to some, at one stage I used to go for walks at 5 o’clock in the morning, learning my Latin vocab at the same time. My sister and I used to walk the three miles to school every day (her school was over the road from mine), although we took the bus back. In recent years I have started to walk again: twice a week at 7 o’clock in the morning I walk three or so miles with a friend, and in addition I often walk by myself once or twice a week. It’s all about trying to keep fit! Of course, walking is not the only form of exercise open to us – we can play games, sign up for the gym, or go swimming. However, walking is the easiest form of exercise to engage in – it is also the cheapest of exercise. Hence, the encouragement often given to walk ‘ten thousand steps a day’.
Currently the UK is suffering from an obesity epidemic. According to a 2014 World Health Organisation study, 28.1% of adults in the UK were clinically obese with a Body Mass Index greater than 30. A 2014 Health Survey for England showed that 62% of adults in England were classified as overweight (a body mass index of 25 or above) or obese, compared to 53% 20 years earlier. Experts predict that by the year 2020 one third of the United Kingdom population could be obese. Adult obesity rates have almost quadrupled in the last 25 years.
We have much about obesity amongst children – indeed, in February 2016 Jeremy Hunt described rising rates for children as “a national emergency”. However, I had not realised that rates for older people are also concerning. According to the 2014 Health Survey for England, older people are obese or overweight too: to be precise, 78% of men aged 65-74; 80% of men aged 75-84; and over 70% of women aged 65-84.
To combat this obesity epidemic, there is much to be said for walking. According to Age Concern UK:
Walking helps with weight loss by burning off calories
Brisk walking reduces the risk of coronary heart disease
Walking reduces the risk of developing cancer
Walking reduces the risk of developing type-2 diabetes
Walking strengthens our bones and so helps prevents osteoporosis
Walking improves our mind and mental wellbeing – and can even help relieve depression
Walking reduces the risk of developing dementia
If our bodies are “temples of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 6.19), then there is no place for abusing our bodies. To counter all the good food and drink that comes our way, there is a lot to be said for getting into the routine of walking!
In the words of Jesus Son of Sirach, “Better off poor, healthy, and fit than rich and afflicted in body. Health and fitness are better than any gold, and a robust body than countless riches” (Ecclesiasticus 30.14-15).
What good advice! Personally I find walking and cycling and being outside essential for my physical and mental- and spiritual wellbeing. Why don’t we have this advice incorporated into sermons (gently and sensitively of course) as being very relevant to our lives?