The power of walking everyday inspired this woman (and this publication’s celebration)


A committed group of walkers, clocking up an average of 3.3 kilometres a day, are noting the health benefits.

Words: Kate Coughlan

Some folk order a big cake to celebrate a significant anniversary or open a bottle of something bubbly and delicious. Alistair Hall, editor of Wilderness, dedicated to enjoying the great outdoors, was looking forward to marking the magazine’s 30th year of publication. He never gave cake or bubbles much consideration.

Instead, he invited people to join him in walking 1200 kilometres in one year. Only an outdoors magazine editor would have devised such a party trick. Yet, thousands signed up for the challenge, and in kilometres covered, they have made it to the moon and back three times.

Alistair is over the moon about that and is proud that Walk1200km is the country’s largest and fastest-growing walking group. More importantly, he’s delighted that the health benefits of walking — even a gentle daily stroll — are being enjoyed by so many. “Covid-19 was a big part of its rapid growth as people sought something tangible. The feedback is positive, with people realising that the more they walk, the more health benefits they observe.”

Dunedin-born Wellington-based Jennifer Andrewes registered with Walk1200 in 2021 in preparation for a 40-day walk across France and over the Pyrenees, an 800-kilometre section of the Camino de Santiago.

The then-50-year-old Department of Internal Affairs communications professional was a regular walker but just two years into a diagnosis of early-onset parkinson’s disease.

She knew she needed impetus to keep training for her health and for the Camino trail. Parkinson’s is a condition associated with a decline in the production of dopamine, the chemical released in the brain that affects movement, mood and the motivation to do things. Being physically active, particularly walking, is a known alleviator of its symptoms and can slow its progression.

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“I’m constantly fighting to rewire my brain and get out there. Walking makes a difference, and I know the more I walk, the less I notice my symptoms. It is a cruel irony that the illness saps my motivation to do the very thing to help me manage it.”

Walk1200 was compelling motivation to walk, rather than take the bus, to work each day. “I get more than just the physical exercise from walking; when I am distracted by walking, I don’t notice my symptoms as much. My parkinson’s is tremor-based and the debilitating effects of the tremor on daily life seem less when I am walking regularly. My mindset is positive, and I feel anything is possible. I can set off with a load of destructive or overwhelming thoughts, and by the time I get back from my walk, I don’t feel that way. When I’m involved in something joyous, the symptoms seem to diminish.”

Jennifer appreciates the community of Walk1200 members she’s met through the Facebook page. She’s regularly out with friends on Wellington’s trails at the weekend, walking up to 20 kilometres around the hills.

Jennifer and her family bought a house in the Pyrenees five years ago, where they spend as much time as possible. Joining the local village walking group has allowed her to maintain her fitness, meet locals and get to know the area. “Walking in the French countryside, although challenging in the mountainous terrain, has that lovely appeal of a village around every corner, with a café and pastries, or a glass of wine for extra motivation.”

(Read more about Jennifer’s adventures living and walking in France here)

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GET CRACKING 

In 2021, the first year of Walk1200km, 2500 participants covered 3.5 million kilometres.

By the beginning of this year, more than 5100 people had registered.  Participants need to walk an average of 3.3 kilometres every day of the year — rain, hail or shine. There are no rules; you can start the challenge at any time. Walking can all happen at the weekends or daily. Register, pay $9 for the daily progress tracker, join a Facebook group to share photos and stories and get those walking shoes on.

ALISTAIR’S TIPS FOR SUCCESS: 

+ Make it a daily habit.
+ Don’t consider how far you have to go — just get out the door.
+ Promise yourself a hot shower afterwards if it is raining.
+ Maintain the daily tracker; filling it in is good motivation.

NZ Life and Leisure This article first appeared in NZ Life & Leisure Magazine.
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