A long time ago I was given the Rolling Stones’ first album for my birthday, and there was one song I couldn’t stop singing: ‘If you don’t know how to do it, I’ll show you how to walk the dog.”
We had a dog at the time called Jess, a border collie, and walking her across the fields near our house was a daily joy, although I’m not sure Jess would have seen it that way. In dog years she was in her early 60s, and having this young human pup insist that we run up hill and down dale for 45 minutes probably in hindsight brought about her premature arthritis.
So that is one way of doing it - run the poor beast into the ground by hurtling around yourself. But now, all these decades later, there’s a different way of walking the dog. Now it’s us who have the arthritic joints, so it’s about throwing balls, and it’s our canine friends who are shouting ‘come on, what’s wrong with you?!’ as they bound off into the undergrowth.
So while walking the dog is undeniably good for us as human beings – if nothing else it gets us out of the house – it would be wrong to think that from a cardiovascular or fitness point of view it’s the same as taking part in something like walking sports.
It doesn’t get the heart rate up in the same way (unless those dog training classes have been a waste of time, and you spend a lot of time chasing your mutt who won’t come when they’re called). It can also often be a solitary pastime, which may sometimes be exactly what you want, but on others exactly what you don’t. And if we’re brutally honest, there can sometimes be the element of a chore about it, as you try to shoehorn a walk into what might be a busy day.
At the end of it, that stepometer on your phone may have clicked through a few notches, but you won’t have strengthened muscles, or improved your fitness, stamina, balance and flexibility to the same extent as you would have done at a regular session of walking sports.
Just Get Active is all about helping you to find a gentler version of a sport that you once loved back when your joints were slightly less creaky, or even inspire you to have a go at a sport you’ve never tried before, but at your pace. If you need convincing, have a look at this handy guide that shows what you can gain from a walking sports session compared to a solitary stroll with your canine companion. It may just surprise you…
While walking the hills and the beach, and through the park, with your four-legged companion can invariably provide a feeling of wellbeing, not everyone has the luxury of large open spaces to walk their dog. The routine of the daily exercise can sometimes become a mental switch off, without the stimulation to provide the acrobatics that your brain needs to perform when taking part in a collective activity.
Walking sports, as we’ve said so often, are genuinely a marvellous way to combat loneliness and create, or re-create, a circle of friends with similar interests and approaches to life. Of course, this can sometimes be said for dog-walking if you regularly cross paths with others on your daily stroll, but not always.
Dogs will often introduce themselves to other people before you have the chance to say hello yourself, and the unofficial dog-walking club that so many of us belong to is obviously a collective of like-minded people. But even if you’re lucky to be somewhere populated by a large selection of dogs and their owners of all shapes and sizes it’s still not the same as being part of a team. That sporting togetherness that you may have shared in days gone by, and which, when you re-engage with it, is hugely liberating and enriching.
All of which is not to criticise dog walking one iota. It’s wonderful, and it’s something I very much enjoy myself, but it’s something to do in conjunction with walking sports.
Perhaps you already enjoy a spot of walking football with friends, or perhaps you are brand new to the walking sports world and have just dipped a toe in. Either way, I’d recommend signing up to My Just Get Active for free. You’ll earn points as you track your walking sports session steps, but also for those wonderful social things like bringing friends along or organising refreshments. For an added bursts of motivation, My Just Get Active will even reward you with virtual trophies when you reach particular milestones that you can share with friends on social media from your very own personalised dashboard.
As time goes by, it’s about doing all we can to keep ourselves alive and alert, even if most of us now would be classified as Ambling Jack Flashes. And if you want an incentive, look no further than a certain 76-year-old called Mick. Don’t we all wish we could move like Jagger…