Walking for Health: A Lifetime Habit

Do you know what is another excellent way to improve or maintain your health? Well, the answer is walking. It is one of the best exercises and what I love about it is - it is slow, it is sustainable, it is safe, and it's out in the fresh air. It can be sociable too if you do it with others and the best thing? You can do it for the rest of your life.

Join me in this Healthy Bite as I contemplate my conversation with Sarah Wilson. We talked about so many important topics that are worthy of discussion.

Walking – Make It the Habit of a Lifetime

This week’s episode is with Sarah Wilson, and I love talking to Sarah. I’ve known her for many years when she was, I say, just a journalist on The Sun Herald, where she tracked her journey on many of her journeys and issues that she was passionate about at the time. 

Book: I Quit Sugar

She particularly tracked her journey through quitting sugar and the impact that had on her health, and that morphed into a book called I Quit Sugar, which morphed into, I suppose, a million copies sold internationally right across the world, and then morphed into an online wellness programme where it really changed the lives of so many people.

I often said to Sarah because I knew her before it had unfolded in that kind of success, I said when she was doing the I Quit Sugar, she had done more to alert people to the problem of consuming sugar than the dental profession has done and I’m proud of this, though. 

They’ve been talking about this for over 60 years, but there was something about the way Sarah delivered that message, which seemed to reach many people and struck a chord, and made a difference in their lives.

Book: First, We Make the Beast Beautiful

Now, after the success of that book, I Quit Sugar, she went on to write another book called First, We Make the Beast Beautiful, where she talks about mental health and how it is viewed, how labels are put onto people, and actually reframing the way we view these issues. 

Book: This One Wild and Precious Life

And then she went on to write this wonderful book, This One Wild and Precious Life, where she tracks through various walks and cycling trips and backpacking around the world and the impact that had and to know Sarah, if you don’t know her, reading that book is really you can hear her voice in every single page. 

I think she’s a tremendous writer and really inspiring, and it was wonderful to talk to her and the book and particularly the discussion, which kind of linked how we move around the world and particularly walking and cycling at this slower pace and the impact that has on us. 

Make walking a part of your life

It struck a chord with me because over the last 10 years, I have walked and made walking holidays part of my annual life. For two weeks every year, we’ve walked through Europe and through, particularly across Spain. Having done the Camino. 

Now the Camino is from St. John Pier to Port to Santiago de Compostela and on another 80 or 100 kilometres to the Atlantic coast and that total of 880 kilometres. Many people, of course, do that in one go. It’s about a 40-day walk, six weeks, say, and that is an amazing experience. That’s not what I did. I did it in four trips, 220 kilometres each year where we just picked up in the following year, where we’d left off and walked on.

It was a wonderful experience, a different experience from that six-week trip. If you are doing, if you’ve done that six-week trip, it is truly a pilgrimage because after well after a week or two, the walking, getting up every day and walking 15, 20 or 30 kilometres, that was about our limit, 30-31 kilometres was our limit in any single day. 

Walking that kind of trip day after day, week after week takes on a whole different experience, which I haven’t had, but I can imagine would be another level altogether because you are with a group of people that you are constantly bumping into along the way.

We got a taste of that in the first section because we did catch up with the same people as we walked that first two weeks. But then when we came back the second year, those people weren’t there and we were walking with friends. That was great too but it would have been quite a different experience. 

But even that, even getting up in the morning and walking 20 or 30 kilometres is an extraordinary experience. It is just a way of slowing down to a human level. We drive from one place to another and things zip past us. We fly or we get on the train and they go even faster. We get on a plane and they go even faster and the scale of it for a human being still with our Stone Age hardware, our bodies and brains. 

It’s a different experience to walk, to see a village or a town in the distance and to approach it and to hear it and to smell it and to feel it and then to walk through it and then to leave it behind you is quite a different experience.

I know in that first year where we took 10 days of walking, we had a break of a day or so in between. We covered 220 kilometres over 10 days and then got in a car and drove 220 kilometres in two hours and that really hit home for us, particularly when we went up hills and you just had to put your foot on the accelerator. The difference was extraordinary. 

The whole human experience of walking on that level has really been had a profound positive impact on my life and my health. I’ve walked across Spain now, I’ve walked down the French Camino, I’ve done the Villa Francigena, which is through Italy and we were going to go on and walk through England doing the Cotswold Walk in 2020, but unfortunately, we weren’t able to do that. 

Instead, we walked from Palm Beach in Sydney at the peak at the tip of the northern beaches of Sydney to La Peruse, which is just at the opening of Botany Bay and that constituted a walk of about 120 kilometres, which we did over five days. That was an extraordinary experience, too because I had driven through so many of those suburbs for the last 40, 50 or so years, and to walk through them is quite a different experience.

This is one of the reasons why I think walking is just such a good exercise because it is slow, it is sustainable, it is safe, it’s out in the fresh air, it can be sociable, you can do it for the rest of your life and that is why I think walking is one of the best exercises and it’s interesting. 

In my book, I quoted a study that came out of the UK, which looked at walking speed as one of the best predictors of whether you would be suffering from any cardiovascular event in the next five years. Walking speed was seen as a better predictor than anything of whether you were going to suffer from a cardiovascular event in the next five years.

Musculoskeletal Problems

If you haven’t heard, one of our podcast guests was with Podiatrist Mark Ninio, and so often people had problems walking. They’ve either got foot pain, ankle pain, in the knee, hip, lower back, and so they can’t walk. Often people then go to see their chiro, osteo physio, which I think is an entirely appropriate place to go if you are having any of those musculoskeletal problems. 

It surprises me in my practise how often I see people or hear people going, “Yeah. I go back for an adjustment every week or every two weeks or once a month, or even once every two or three months.” And I kind of think to myself, “Why does that require constant readjustment? And posturally, there are many reasons why that might be, but one that is commonly overlooked is food structure.

If you are having those kinds of pains, I would think about having somebody who knows what they’re doing do an assessment of your food structure, the way your heel touches the ground, the way your foot puts weight down and then the way of the front of your foot causes you to lift off. That is all about foot mechanics. 

If your foot rolls in or rolls out and you’ve had a chronic musculoskeletal pain problem as in the lower back then, that kind of imbalance can just perpetuate the problem. You know, three years. Muscles have memory. The thing about doing a proper assessment so that you can comfortably walk and that’s incredibly positive is to consider that.

Walking is a wonderful form of exercise

I digress there for a moment, but back to walking and I would encourage you to do those kinds of trips. Look, I still remember the first day that we left St John and it was a rainy day and we were walking the Camino, and we’d been inspired by a wonderful movie by Martin Sheen called The Way. I’d recommend it to you, and this is not a spoiler because this is what happens in the first five minutes of the movie, he traces the Camino because his son did set off on the Camino, which is, as I said, a six-week walk and the son dies on the first day walking over the Pyrenees. 

I kind of thought, “Wow, I mean, a six-week walk and, you know, dying on the first day is extraordinary.” Well, it turns out that the first day of that walk is actually one of the most challenging, and it’s challenging because it’s very steep.

It was particularly challenging on the day that we did it because it was pouring rain. I realised there is a big difference between Gore-Tex that gives you showerproof and Gore-Tex that gives you a whole day’s worth of rainproof, waterproofing. I had terrible equipment. I had a really old pair of walking boots and it was raining and it was foggy, and I could entirely see how easily it would be to slip and have an accident on that first day.

I remember at the end of that first day being so sore that I could barely walk from the bathroom to my bed to the bathroom and yet that day I was going to be doing a 25 kilometre walk. Turned out I could do it and I did do it, and it was a wonderful experience on so many different levels. 

One of my achievements, one of being in touch with the elements as well. That’s another thing, if it’s raining, you normally run for cover. But if you’ve got good gear, there is something incredibly exhilarating about walking even in the pouring rain, provided you got good gear. 

We’ve even done walks in France, where we’ve walked through very light snow, and that was delightful as well. Of course, heat is the worst or most challenging to walk through. Walking is a wonderful experience, and my conversation with Sarah was a reminder of the power of it on so many levels.

If you didn’t get a chance to listen to this week’s podcast with Sarah, we didn’t just talk about walking, we talked about other stuff as well. If you haven’t had a chance to read her wonderful book This One Wild and Precious Life, I’d recommend it to you. 

If you are interested in doing some walking, I’d encourage you to do it because it’s a wonderful, wonderful form of exercise. I hope this finds you well. Until next time.


This podcast provides general information and discussion about medicine, health, and related subjects. The content is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice or a substitute for care by a qualified medical practitioner. If you or any other person has a medical concern, they should consult with an appropriately qualified medical practitioner. Guests in this podcast express their opinions, experiences, and conclusions.