Why is walking and green space important for young people?

Young girl standing on bridge and looking out over canal, green trees and canal boats.  

Alisa Bury is a year 12 student based in south London. In July 2019, Alisa joined the Ramblers’ policy and advocacy team for a week’s work experience. In this blog, Alisa reflects on her experiences as a young person living in London and the importance of walking and green spaces.

As a 17-year-old girl living in an urban environment, I do not explore the outdoors and green spaces to the level that I should. Like many others my age, I have become hostage to technology. We may know that walking and green space are very accessible, but unlike our phones, they’re not right in front of us. Many of us occasionally sit in gardens, lie in parks or walk through trees on our way somewhere else, but are we truly taking in the therapeutic properties of walking around and appreciating our green spaces? 

Living in London, there is something truly special about the moments that we spend in large, open, natural spaces. They give us an opportunity to find a refreshing retreat: an escape from the fast-pace, modern nature of cities and towns. Green spaces with great walking paths allow us to move our bodies and to explore nature and exciting new terrains. Walking helps to clear our minds at times of stress and can provide a moment of catharsis in our busy, everyday lives. Recent research suggests that spending just two hours a week in green spaces, such as parks, can make us happier and healthier

In a society where preventable diseases and mental health issues amongst young people are on the rise, physical activity should be an important part of our lives. But, a third of children and young people in London are physically inactive, meaning they do less than 30 minutes of activity a day. In fact, only 17% of young Londoners are active for at least 60 minutes a day, the level recommended by the Chief Medical Officer. The effects of this reach beyond physical appearances and ‘keeping your weight down’. Physical activity - whether you are regularly brisk walking or regularly walking at any speed – brings many benefits to physical health, from improved performance of the heart, lungs and circulation to lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of coronary heart disease and strokes. 

In comparison to many sports, walking’s flexibility and convenience makes it an ideal form of physical activity. It can easily become a part of the busy lives of young people, who regularly juggle school, work, their social lives and more. Walking is catered towards you - you are in control of when, where and for how long you walk. 

So, what should, we, as young people, start doing? Spend that three hours you would’ve spent on Snapchat or scrolling through your Instagram feed, outside. Set yourself walking goals (this can be easily done on a phone or Fitbit), go with friends or even join a walking group. If you’re walking in cities or towns, think about the importance of green space. Find a park or wood, explore local wildlife sites, discover new paths or walk to places you wouldn’t normally. Just think about the positive impact you could have on yourself and the environment.