We put one foot in front of the other without thinking, yet how many of us know how we do that, or appreciate the advantages it gives us? O'Mara, a neuroscientist at Trinity College Dublin, does, and in this paean to perambulation, he invites us to marvel at the benefits it confers on us. Incredibly, he explains, walking has its evolutionary origins millions of years ago under the sea, but as we all become increasingly sedentary, we risk the remarkable things it does for us, from protecting and repairing our organs, to improving mood and relieving stress.
Such are the benefits derived from the simple act of walking that O’Mara wants to see it addressed seriously by policymakers. Walking, he says, should be prescribed on the NHS. Urban areas should have their own walking charters, and walking should be designed into our towns and cities as a priority and not as an afterthought. Even something as simple as road crossings could do with more thought: they are usually set for people who can walk at least 1.2 metres per second, yet the vast majority of adults tested moved at below this speed. “Walkers everywhere,” he states, “need a charter that is at the foundation of our communities.” He even has a handy acronym for it: EASE (“easy, accessible, safe, enjoyable” walking).
It is convincing and compelling stuff. Hippocrates might have been onto something after all.