As foreign travel still looks uncertain for many of us this summer, U Perform have decided to do a series of blogs over the next few weeks looking at activities you can do and places you can visit in the United Kingdom to stay fit and active, and have a great summer.
Our first blog looks at hiking in the great outdoors… the health & wellness benefits and how to stay safe.
Walking is the most accessible sport in the world. It’s something virtually all of us do every day, anyway, even if it’s simply walking to lunch or to the shops. It requires no special equipment or training… You simply get out there and do it.
Hiking has continued to grow in popularity since the creation of the National Parks, which began in 1951 with the Peak District National Park. It’s estimated that 22 million people visit the park annually, of which some 56% - close to 12 million people – come to walk.
Going for a hike or walk in the countryside is a great way to reconnect with nature, step outside of our busy lives and gain some perspective while enjoying the view.
Taking a mindful walk in nature can enhance the benefits you feel far beyond the physical health benefits, and may help improve the following:
- Improve your mood.
- Reduce stress.
- Manage anxiety.
- Help you sleep better.
- Help you to cope with difficult times.
- Improve your confidence and self-esteem.
- Reduce the risk of depression.
Here are some ideas for how you can bring mindfulness into your walk.
Walking slowly and taking in everything that your senses can pick up will support bringing you in to the present moment, helping you to dissolve all your cares and worries. Listen to the insect and animal sounds, observe the movement of the grass, smell what scents are carried on the breeze.
However, hiking in the UK comes with a number of potential dangers that you must be aware of and have a plan to ensure your safety.
Even on a calm day, when the conditions seem perfect, there are many potential dangers while walking in the countryside. We don't want to discourage you from getting out there and enjoying all the beauty and health benefits... so let’s discuss how you can stay safe.
- Plan your hike.
Going for a walk in the countryside mean different things to different people. You may want to go for a leisurely stroll up some easily accessible hills or bring out the climbing gear and tackle some steep slopes. Either way, good planning can mean the difference between an invigorating afternoon and a disaster.
Check out your route. If your hike is in a national park or somewhere well known for hiking, then it is likely you are walking where others have gone before. They will have special routes and often signposted areas. Check routes, mark them on your map and have a contingency plan if there is some reason your chosen route is unavailable.
Part of your planning will be to gauge the environment. Another is to gauge yourself and your party. Know your fitness levels and set realistic targets for yourselves. Just because you are eager and raring to go, doesn't mean everyone in your group is on the same page.
If someone says they are not feeling well or need to pace themselves, pushing them too hard can be counterproductive. Before you leave, if you find that the weather has got worse, or if you are not feeling healthy that day, then you may select an easier route. You may even want to plan for some other day.
Experience will help you gauge the risk, but caution is important. If the weather suddenly changes during the hike, then don’t feel ashamed to turn round and go back.
- Take the right equipment
Although going out for a hike is different in summer than it is in winter, there are similar considerations. One of the most important is your shoes. Hiking boots do not only keep you comfortable, they can keep you safe.
A solid sole will help you over crags and rocks. If there is a chance of rain or you need to cross water, then keeping them as dry as possible will be important. If not, you might be at risk of damp feet which can become very uncomfortable on longer hikes. Your boots should be appropriate for the terrain you intend to walk.
A light walking shoe might be good for a short hike, but if you will be walking over a lot of uneven ground, you may need a boot. This is because boots will help keep your ankle supported when going for a walk on the mountain.
If you want to stay safe while hiking, your boots shouldn't be too tight or too loose. A loose boot can lead to abrasions on your feet, leading to blisters, even small ones can be very uncomfortable. Socks are also important to stay safe when walking in the countryside. They will help keep you warm and comfortable and reduce the stress on your feet.
As you move up a mountain, the winds may become stronger and nights colder. Even if it is summer time and the weather is fine at sea level, snow or rain may appear suddenly out of nowhere. It is a good idea to bring along a waterproof jacket or fleece with you, regardless of the weather.
You would rather have one and not need it, than need one and not have it. Make sure you know the signs to look for and how to prevent hypothermia if you are planning on hiking in cold areas.
If you are on a serious hike, then you should always bring a mobile phone so that you can communicate with friends and family. You should not only plan for what you expect, but also the unexpected. You might be used to Google Maps finding your way to the nearest supermarket, but this might not be as useful on a mountain. A good ole fashioned compass and map might be your best bet to stay safe.
- Hydration is key
Perhaps the most important thing you need to bring if you want to stay safe on your hike, is water.
Bring enough water for the duration of your hike. Intense heat and sun, together with hill climbing, may lead to dehydration. You can feel hot and thirsty even during the winter months.
Experts advise not to drink from a river, unless you have someone in your group who knows the source. Water purifying tablets can be helpful, especially in emergencies.
Energy levels are important when walking in the countryside, especially if you find yourself in trouble. You should bring some high energy food which is concentrated and can be stored easily. This means if you do get lost, you might be able to power through or at least be able to stay fuelled until help arrives. However, bringing too much can weigh you down, so don’t overdo it.
- Staying safe in the sun
The sun will lift your spirits, enable you to enjoy the view and help with some really good pictures.
However, it can also work against you when walking in the countryside if you're not careful. Even in winter, the sun can be strong and cause sunburn and sunstroke. Sunburns are more of a concern in the long term as it can damage your skin.
However, sunstroke can deplete your energy levels drastically and might mean you can't get back even with relatively little to go. Even if you feel determined, your body will start to tell you if you are getting too hot. It is better to turn around than persevere and pay the price.
Keep your head covered and apply sunscreen. The sun is going to be stronger at heights, so you have to be extra careful while going high up in the hills and mountains. Sunglasses will also be useful as sun can damage your eyes and make it difficult to say safe. This is especially so in the winter snow. The sun will be lower in the sky, but still strong. It will also reflect off the white snow, which is why many skiers can be seen with lots of sunscreen on their noses.
- Let people know where you’re going
Inform your family and friends about where you are going. Whether hiking on your own or in a group, you want to be in contact with people. Give the route you intend to take to someone and then follow it strictly.
Also tell them how long you are going hiking for. If you do not return back by a specific date or time, the friend should become alert and take necessary steps.
Time is of the essence in an emergency, so if you fall or get lost, rescue services will find you more easily and can provide treatment if they know exactly where you'll be.
If you are in doubt, ask for expert advice. Collect up to date weather conditions about the area you intend to walk and plan accordingly.
- First aid
Bringing a basic first aid kit is a minimum, but you or someone in the group should also know how to use it.
Bringing a pen knife or simple universal tool can also be extremely useful. Not just for the practical things like opening tins of food etc, but also for trimming bandages and making emergency shelters etc.
Staying safe while going for a walk or hike in the countryside is something you need to consider… but once you have thought of all the possibilities and come prepared, it means you can get on with enjoying your hike in nature.
There are so many beautiful places to walk in the UK… whether that’s a simple walk along a river, in a forest or along the beach… or a more challenging hike into the beautiful hills and mountains that we have in this country.
We would love to know where your favourite places to hike are… share your images and tag us in them @uperformuk.
Have fun exploring our beautiful countryside… follow our advice and stay safe… and enjoy both the physical and mental health benefits that walking in nature can bring.