I recently conducted a survey amongst members of the Ramblers Association to gain a perspective on how walking is perceived as a hobby for the younger generations; mainly because membership of the organisation is in decline, whilst the remaining members are, inevitably, getting older.
Whilst humans have walked for generations - for necessity, work, religious purposes, and even for courting; walking as a pastime has only developed in the past couple of centuries, initially a wealthy man’s pursuit, latterly a very working-class movement [from which the Ramblers Association was born] but looking at the modern day; one wonders whether its appeal will continue, as young people have a huge variety of things to do in their spare time, and tend to imagine a stereotypical rambler to be of retirement age!
In a age dominated by technology, it is easy to see much of the world without leaving your own home. Young people who do enjoy active lifestyles are perhaps looking for more fast-paced and exhilarating hobbies. There’s also the problem of balancing the activity with the demands of work and family commitments. I think a key problem lies in the perception of ‘rambling’ – firstly, it’s in the terminology. Whilst a ramble conjures up the idea of a gentle stroll through rolling fields; a “hike”, conversely, implies something requiring more effort and therefore challenging. Others think it’s something only couples do together, or only done with a dog in tow, some just see it as a pointless and ultimately dull. Why would young people want to do something they think is only for old folks? Young people tend to be persuaded by trends bandied about online. If you Google ‘celebrities who walk for fun’ you’ll get zero relevant results. Yes, respected intellectuals such as Will Self might enjoy a good hike, but he’s largely unknown to that generation. That said, on googling ‘celebrities who walk for fitness’ you come across magazine articles of various women who have lost x-amount of weight or enjoy walking the dog – all linked to diet and fitness. The modern, youthful zeitgeist can suggest that walking has to be justified as an activity solely for fitness purposes, thus rendering it an ‘acceptable’ leisure activity. This makes sense when you consider the rise in popularity of pedometers and other apps that measure your daily activity. Yet there is so much more to walking than just placing one foot in front of the other.
It’s said that younger generations prefer ‘experiential’ activities i.e. “involving or based on experience and observation”, or, a more cynical interpretation may be “something they can post on social media.” Taking a walk in the country can be shared online; pictures of the dramatic landscapes you encounter, or of friends having a picnic together on the moorland. However, the unseen, personal experiences are far more significant - the relaxation of a mind when allowed to wander; having that sense of ‘stepping away from it all’; the ease at which conversation can flow whilst walking; the feeling of well-being you get having completed a walk; physical and mental satisfaction. Not to mention the serendipity of discovering new places, indeed new hobbies that may come from a walk, such as photography, painting and camping.
It could be interpreted that young people need to believe that an activity is worth doing. But ironically, to realise the joys of walking, one must walk in the first place. To encourage that first step into the great outdoors could be by way of positioning it as a challenge. If you’ve a teenage or young adult child, whom you’d like to see more active, you could ‘dare’ them to complete the Three Peaks Challenge? If there is a definable end goal, I believe young people would be more open to the idea of hiking as a hobby.
This quote sums up exactly why walking is so rewarding, and let’s not forget, walking in the great outdoors is free and no treadmill ever made anyone happy!
“A vigorous five-mile walk will do more good for an unhappy but otherwise healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world” - An American pioneer in modern cardiology, Paul Dudley White