By half way through January, many new year’s resolutions to exercise have fallen by the wayside – but if gyms seem daunting or expensive, and jogging like too much hard work, how about walking?

A new report by the Department for Transport reveals people are walking less often, even compared to 10 years ago. In 2016, on average people made 243 trips on foot, covering 198 miles, and walking trips have decreased in number by 19% over the past 10 years, from 4.7 trips per week to 3.8 trips per week. The distance walked decreased by 8%.

Yet walking is free, accessible and needs no equipment other than some good footwear. Walking is a form of exercise with a wide range of health benefits, for mind and body. And if you want company, advice and support, all sorts of organisations are poised to help you take that first step.

“I’ve been walking for many years,” said Grahame Lee, chairman of the Swindon and Northeast Wiltshire Ramblers. “I joined the Ramblers when I retired, because I got to see so many new places in the company of nice people. It brings a whole new aspect to life, and it’s amazing the difference you can make.

“You can take a sad, lonely person who reluctantly comes along to their first walk, and then decides to join, and enjoys the socialising as well.”

The Ramblers meet two or three times a week, for walks in the local area and further afield, covering from about five miles to 11 miles, with a leader who has worked out a route and can season the walk with interesting historical or cultural facts about the places the walkers encounter.

“Walking in the group can give you more security – perhaps some women don’t like walking alone, or people don’t want to get lost and stranded out on their own. And leaders are trained in First Aid and map-reading. They take time to investigate walks and make sure it is safe,” Grahame said.

The groups have built up a rich repertoire of walks – but if a four-mile walk seems too much of a challenge, Grahame also helped set up Step Out Swindon, a popular programme of health walks to encourage people to be more active.

“I became a health walk leader, for Walking for Health, with Swindon Borough Council. It was very successful, and more volunteers started other groups within Swindon. This summer the council decided they would withdraw all funding for it, but with a group of volunteers we decided to continue, and we set up our own scheme.”

Step Out Swindon offers free, weekly short walks, in Penhill, Covingham, Lower Shaw, Haydon and Wroughton – with an additional gentle mobility walk in Haydon for those with mobility difficulties. The Haydon health walk regularly attracts a hundred people for a group walk.

Sometimes people are referred to Step Out Swindon by GPs or health clinics, to encourage them to exercise. The walks are on hard surfaces and take about an hour, covering two and a half miles.

Once your confidence develops, you can move on to the Progression walks, which take place once a month and cover about four miles within Swindon.

“Next Tuesday we are walking in Kembrey and Stratton St Margaret,” Grahame said. “Old Town is alway popular, because it has so much history as well.”

Grahame himself has many favourite walks, including Lacock for its buildings and landscape, the Marlborough Downs and, closer to home, Mouldon Hill and Shaw Forest. He said you did not have to go far, in Swindon, to find green spaces to walk in.

“We have so many green paths. When people ask how we came to be so successful in having so many footpaths, it is because the Ramblers are involved with the planning. From Haydon I can walk so many ways. We’re working with planners on the new Eastern Villages, to make sure the footpaths continue to be linked across the A419 and access is maintained.”

A key element of the Ramblers’ work is maintaining and preserving footpaths, and working with planners to make sure our public rights of way are protected and enhanced in the future. Last year, Swindon and Wiltshire Ramblers spent more than a thousand hours clearing more than 20km of paths, as well as waymarking, repairing stiles, installing gates, fixing bridges and steps.

Walking has a host of health benefits – former chief medical officer of England Sir Liam Donaldson said: “If a medication existed which had a similar effect to physical activity, it would be regarded as a wonder drug or a miracle cure.”

Walking boosts memory and decreases stress, and it cuts the risk of a heart attack. If you walk an hour a day, it reduces your risk of a heart attack by half.

Walking also reduces the chance of hip fracture by boosting bone density, helps prevent muscle wastage, boosts joint health, reduces aerobic capacity decline in the lungs and helps weight loss. The World Cancer Research Fund says 10,000 cases of breast and bowel cancer would be preventable in Britain alone if people spent an hour walking every day.

Many people are signing up for the Walk 1000 miles 2018 challenge – which means walking for about an hour a day. A host of organised charity walking events give new walkers a goal to aim for. Nina Barough, who founded the Walk the Walk charity, set up the Moonwalk – a night-time walking marathon in London – and has written a book on walking called Walking for Fitness. Walk the Walk promotes a healthy and fit lifestyle and at the same time raises significant funds for vital breast cancer causes.

“Walking is the easiest form of activity,” Nina said. “Sports can conjure up all sorts of horrors for people. Twenty years ago, when Walk the Walk was new, it was understood walking offered protection against disease but no-one knew to what degree. The funding we have given to research show lifestyle and activity play a big part in prevention.”

She added: “All you need are the right shoes. If you are put off by the weather at this time of year, get the right clothes – a light, waterproof jacket with a hood and peak, have warm hands and trousers that don’t hold water.

“It has been described as almost the perfect exercise. After a couple of weeks of walking an hour every day, you start to feel the benefits – your bottom starts to lift, your core muscles improve – and that’s just the physical side of things. Other benefits are the health benefits – those are almost endless.

“One of my top tips is to go out, switch the phone off and have time to yourself. We lead really pressured lives and it’s good to create some time when you can have space. I get all my best ideas when walking. It’s great for problem solving – and for sleep too, if you’re walking later in the day.”

For more information about the Swindon and Northeast Wiltshire Ramblers, visit To find out more about joining Step Out Swindon, call Grahame on 07932 109209. Visit to sign up for the 1000-mile challenge, and to find out how you can walk to raise money for breast cancer charities.