LEAVING the car at home and choosing to walk or cycle not only benefits the environment, helping to cut the carbon emissions that contribute to climate change; it’s great for your health – both mental and physical – and fitness. But it can be hard to break the driving habit, so here are ten easy ways to take those first steps, or pedals...
Ring the bell a little early
Not ready to commit to walking all the way? Starting slowly and building up your walking activity could mean you’ll find it easier to stick to, and getting off the bus a few stops early is a simple way to do this. Seeing a long walk ahead of you, whether it’s to work or the shops or home from the cinema, can be off-putting but taking public transport part of the way and walking the last few stops is an easily manageable goal.
Join the club
Going it alone when you’re not used to the extra activity can seem daunting, so you might find it easier with others around you. A walking or cycling club is a great way to get some much-needed motivation, and makes getting moving a social activity rather than a chore. There are walking and cycling clubs for all ages and abilities, including ones specifically for women like cycling group Belles on Bikes, which has clubs in Glasgow, Edinburgh , Inverclyde and Moray . A quick online search will throw up a community club near you, or you could see if your office has a walking or cycling club – if not, why not start one? Even if you don’t fancy joining organised walks and cycles, start thinking of going for a walk or a bike ride a social activity, just like going for a coffee or catching a movie – instead of meeting friends in the pub meet in the park, by the canal – anywhere that’s a good spot for a walk or cycle. It’s free, much better for you than sitting in a bar or café all day and gives you the time and space to properly catch up.
Get your boss to buy you a bike
The government’s Cyclescheme allows employers to sign up to a plan which lets employees spread the cost of buying a bike for commuting to work, and save 25 per cent on the final price. Commuting helps you stay fit and more alert at
work, lets you incorporate cycling into your everyday life, and those who do it take fewer sick days. Cyclescheme lets you choose a bike, hire it for an agreed length of time, pay monthly with deductions taken automatically from your salary, then at the end of the agreement you can buy it for a fraction of it’s original value – the scheme is interest-free and more than 2,000 retailers across the UK take part. All you need is a code from your employer, and if they haven’t signed up, they can do so for free.
Make a day of it
Hillwalking doesn’t have to mean hundreds of pounds’ worth of equipment and every chance of getting acquainted with the local search and rescue team. A gentle hike is a great way to start walking, get out of town and into fresher air and makes for a fun day out with family or friends – and Scotland isn’t exactly short of scenic routes. The Scotsman’s Walk of the Week should provide some inspiration. Cyclists should check out Bike Events Scotland for a list of cycling days out near you, or get involved in Bike Week, taking place across the UK from 13 to 21 June this year.
Get snap happy
Photo sharing apps like Instagram and Scotland’s own online picture journal Blipfoto can be a great inspiration to get out there and explore – whether on your bike or your feet. It can be hard to motivate yourself to go for a walk or a cycle without any purpose to it, which is where taking photos comes in – you’ll start noticing the world around you more, viewing each excursion as a mission to find something interesting to share. As well as a new hobby you might even gain new friends by joining organised photography walks like Instagram’s InstaMeets, which take place regularly around Scotland. Instagram also sets challenges for its users like the Weekend Hashtag Project, encouraging them to post pictures that are their own interpretation of a different theme each week, as do accounts like @Colorsoftheweek, which sets a colour for each day of the week for users to focus on.
Walk off your lunch
Going for a walk, even around the block, on your lunch break has multiple benefits – not least for your health, with government health advisers now recognising that sitting for long periods poses a serious health risk – regardless of how much exercise you take. Sitting all day increases your likelihood of developing type two diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer, while taking a walk on your lunch break is also calming, releases stress that builds up at work, allows your eyes a break from screens, clears your head, and increases energy and concentration for the afternoon ahead.
Put your money where your mouth is
Sponsored events aren’t just for marathon masochists – signing up for a walk or cycle to raise money for a charity is a great motivator. A Walk to Remember, taking place on 13 June, is in aid of St Columba’s Hospice. You can walk 13 miles from Balerno to Leith Links, or take the shorter 5-mile route from Murrayfield, and it’s suitable for everyone (dogs are even welcome, on a lead) – to register go to stcolumbashospice.org.uk or call (0131) 551 1381. Or if you’d rather raise your money from the saddle, Pedal for Scotland has four different charity events taking place on 6 September, from 9-110 miles for all abilities, with training rides beforehand to help get you in shape.
Add local to your shopping list
Walking to the local shops instead of driving to the supermarket is a great way to up your step count, while also supporting local businesses. Walking to your neighbourhood grocer, butcher, fishmonger, deli, florist, dry cleaner, even corner shop – with your bag for life in hand – cuts emissions, gets you out and about in your community, supports small business owners, offers more opportunity to shop with local producers, and turns running errands into a pleasure rather than a chore.
Borrow a bike
Following on from the success of public automated bike hire schemes such as London’s “Boris bikes” or the Velib’ in Paris, which allow users to hire a bike for as long as they need it, collecting and dropping it off at locations around the city, Glasgow, Stirling and Dumfries now have their own versions. Go to Next Bike for info on the Glasgow and Stirling bikes and Go Smart for Dumfries.
Wearing a pedometer or activity band, which you can link to an app on your smartphone, helps keep track not only of all the walking and cycling you do, but of the benefits you’re reaping from it.
Fitness trackers allow you to measure your progress at the gym, on walks and bike rides, even while you’re swimming, as well as tracking sleep patterns and heart rate, with the results surely the best possible motivator for continuing to add more activity to your daily life.
• This article was produced in partnership with the Scottish Government