LIFE IN SPAIN
New Ways to See Spain: Here's something from the Daily Telegraph. Sponsored, of course, but might still be useful.
The Tax Office (again!): Drawing up my appeal, I noted that none of their letters ever has a date on it. No coincidence, I imagine. I sent the draft to my asesor, who advised me to hold off sending it and to go to the local office on Monday for a chat with someone there. He's right, of course: it's always more productive to deal face-to-face in Spain, where emails and letters are not always answered. To say the least.
School Homework: Perhaps because they've been studying the Finnish education system, parents here are said to be up in arms against the amount of work their princes and princesses have to do after hours. Click here for more on this.
A Major Irony: It was Global Car-Free Day on Thursday, aimed at showing how much more rapidly we'd move on bikes or foot. It caused huge traffic jams around this country.
A Headline You Don't See Everyday: Driver Crashed when he was drunk and with his mother's ashes in the boot. Or trunk, if you're (North). American
Bastards: There are reported to be 145,000 people driving around Galicia without insurance, raising premiums for the rest of us. Not to mention leaving us with no one to get compensation from. Been, there, done that. Albeit in the UK.
An Unsellable House?: This is an attractive place in Pontevedra's old quarter, right behind the basilica of Santa María. It's been for sale/rent since I came here 16 years ago. I could understand why no one wanted it when the old quarter was blighted by the teenage binge drinking known as the botellón but this was exiled to the other side of the river a few years ago. Can it be the price? Must check this out.
Sic Transit . . : Talking of the basilica . . . There used to be a wonderful tapas bar beside it - O Cortello. Or The Pigsty. It was owned and run by an Andalucian with a huge personality. When he decided to sell it, he sadly discovered that most of its value lay in him and that no one was prepared to pay what he thought was a reasonable price. They were right, of course, as all the businesses 'goodwill' did reside in him. So it remained unsold and he closed it. Now it's going, as they say, to rack and ruin. Here's a current foto or two. Very sad:-
A Bit of Trumpet Blowing: Going through some correspondence with my elder daughter during her first year at university, I came across this poem I'd composed while walking our 2 border collies. It's pretty good, if I do say so myself:-
In the library at school lurked a predatory fool, who bullied us kids something horrid.
But he fell foul of a prank while stealing a plank supporting ten volumes of Ovid.
Five fell on his head and, while he lay spread, five gave him a rupture splenetic.
And, after he died, the librarian sighed: "Well at least it was justice poetic".
You Have to Laugh: There are witches where you least expect them, it seems.
Another Daft Corporate Puff: E-On. We're on it.
More examples of Finnish/British nightmares:
The value of walking . . .
Step on it: how walking keeps you younger for longer
It almost sounds too easy: the simple act of walking will make you healthier and add years to your life. Yet a wealth of new research is now saying just this. That the single most important thing you can do to improve your longevity is to move more — and the best way to do that is to walk.
One study, published last month, found that even just half an hour a day of moderate-paced walking can cut the risk of a fatal heart attack by half. Another six-year study, concluded earlier this year, found that walking is just as good as running for reducing high blood pressure and cholesterol and for fighting heart disease. Some experts say it is even better. Research is also showing how walking can help to protect against type 2 diabetes, arthritis, depression, memory loss and even Alzheimer’s. It’s also the best way to combat the negative effects found to be emerging from our increasingly sedentary lifestyles.
In the most recent study, presented to the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Congress, Finnish researchers reported that people aged between 65 and 74 who walked for four hours a week cut their risk of dying from a heart condition by 54 per cent.
Riitta Antikainen, professor of geriatrics at the University of Oulu, who led the 12-year study, said that walking is “protective even if you have other risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as high cholesterol”. The second study was conducted by researchers at the University of California’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. They analysed 33,060 runners in the National Runners’ Health Study and 15,045 walkers in the National Walkers’ Health Study. They found that brisk walking and running resulted in similar reductions in risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and possibly coronary heart disease. The more people walked or ran each week during the six-year study, the greater the benefits to their cardiovascular system. Overall, for the same amount of energy used, walkers experienced greater health benefits than runners. Last year, another study showed that people who walked a lot had lower BMIs and smaller waists than those who took part in more vigorous activities such as jogging.
Type 2 diabetes affects 2.7 million people in the UK. The risk of this can be slashed by up to 30 per cent by walking for only 30 minutes daily, according to data from the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study. And there is a reason why many of us instinctively feel the need to take a stroll or walk the dog after a large meal. A trial on a group of older people at George Washington University found that the act of walking after eating (when blood sugar levels can rise significantly) helped to control blood glucose levels for a full 24 hours. Poor blood sugar control is a key risk factor for diabetes in the long term.
Other recently published papers have shown how walking can offset many of the negative side-effects of ageing. Researchers at Boston University found that walking 6,000 steps, or three miles, a day could improve knee arthritis by helping to build muscle strength and flexibility, and also reduce arthritic pain. The paper’s author also found that even those who walked very little could improve their health by making a bit more effort to get out of the house. For someone with knee arthritis, who walks very little, walking only 3,000 steps a day, or 1.5 miles, can lead to improvements, says Daniel White, a research assistant professor in the department of physical therapy and athletic training. “The more walking one does, the less risk of developing functioning difficulties.”
While walking has always had healthy benefits, adding a stroll to our daily routine is more important than ever. As our life-styles become ever more sedentary, research is increasingly showing how bad this is for our longevity. Some scientists are now saying that the modern culture of sitting at a desk all day is as detrimental to health as smoking and drinking excessively. In a study by the University of Cambridge this year, scientists found that workers who barely moved from their desks for eight hours were 60 per cent more likely to die prematurely.
Walking is emerging as a potent weapon. “It’s the best form of defence we have against the onslaught of sedentarism,” says Greg Whyte, professor of applied sport and exercise science at Liverpool John Moores University. “ Recent data has shown how substituting one hour of sitting with one hour of walking results in a 13 per cent drop in all-cause mortality. You live longer, in other words.”
Indeed, only 25 minutes of brisk walking a day could add up to seven years to your life, experts claimed in research presented at the European Society of Cardiology congress last year. Sanjay Sharma, the professor of inherited cardiac diseases in sports cardiology at St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said it could halve the risk of heart attack death among those in their fifties and sixties. “When you exercise moderately, you reduce your risk of dying from a heart attack when you’re in your fifties and sixties by 50 per cent.”
So what is it about walking that makes it so effective? Certainly, it helps to shred fat by burning calories at an average rate of 88 per mile at a moderate pace (more if you move faster). It helps to strengthen muscles in the legs, buttocks and core. As you walk, the force of each stride stresses bones in a positive way so that bone cells respond by creating more tissue and strengthening the skeleton. Also it is obviously something our bodies are designed to do.
Stephen Zwolinsky, a researcher in the Centre for Active Lifestyles at Leeds Beckett University, says. “Anthropologically, humans are designed to solve problems while walking for up to 14 hours per day,” Zwolinsky says. “Yet many people spend almost that amount of time sitting instead. And this seems to be a growing issue as we age.”
Surveys by the Department for Transport show the average person now walks 181 miles a year — less than half a mile a day and a drop of 63 miles since 1986.
It is not just our bodies that respond with remarkable effect. A regular walk three times a week has been shown to increase the size of brain regions linked to planning and memory over the course of a year. Thus it helps to slow the brain shrinkage and weakening mental skills that occur as we age. Neurologists at the University of Miami recently suggested that people who don’t walk or do some form of light exercise experience a cognitive decline equivalent to ten more years of ageing compared with those who are active. Others have shown how walking for at least six miles a week may protect brain size and, in turn, preserve memory in old age.
The speed at which people can walk in old age has been shown to be a determining factor in detecting Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers at the University Hospital Toulouse found an association between the slow walking speed of elderly people and a build-up of plaque associated with the disease in several areas of the brain. Those who walked at an average pace (3.48 feet per second) or faster were less likely to have the disease hallmark. “The mental benefits of walking are phenomenal,” says Whyte. “There is so much proof that walking outdoors improves mood and helps alleviate mild depression by helping to balance brain chemicals.”
So if we want to increase the amount of walking we do, where should we start? Recently, 10,000 daily steps have been widely touted as the goal to aim for, but Whyte says it is better to work to individual goals. Indeed, a new study showed how fitness trackers can distract users from their weight loss goals as they become overly dependent on the devices. The key, say experts, is to set your own limits. Walking 10,000 steps — or about five miles — is too much of a leap if you do nothing at present, so build up gradually. The idea of a 10,000-steps tally first became popular in the 1970s and is not based on any scientific evidence. It’s almost certainly not enough for most people.
“If it’s your main activity, you need to be doing a few more steps or miles each week,” Whyte says. Findings from a study involving 3,127 adult volunteers and 14 researchers from the US, Canada, Sweden and France, suggested 11,000-12,000 was a more appropriate target for most people.
Turn your walk into a workout
Add in short busrst of speed.
Try adding 30-second or one-minute bursts of fast walking. “You will naturally get faster as you get aerobically fitter,” says Greg Whyte, professor of applied sport and exercise science at Liverpool John Moores University. That, in itself, can pay dividends because your body will move more efficiently, enabling you to keep going for longer without getting out of breath.
Take on some hills
Adding hills to the walking equation will take the intensity up several notches. Calorie-burn can increase by as much as 60 per cent compared with walking on flat ground and it is likely you will burn at least 140 calories per undulating mile. What’s more, hills provide resistance and will strengthen muscles everywhere, particularly in the buttocks and legs.
Make your walk longer or harder each time
Build up to 5 miles (around 90 minutes or 10,000 steps) of moderate walking and then progress from there. The longer you keep it up and the more you do, the more pronounced the health benefits of walking. “This is key,” says Whyte. “You need incremental increases in time, distance or intensity so that it makes you work harder over time. You want to avoid hitting a fitness plateau. Mix up your walking, adding more variety to challenge yourself. The harder you walk, the less distance or number of steps you need to take to reap the benefits of walking.”
‘It’s most liberating to the spirit’: Matthew Parris.
I’ve been walking since the age of four, when I ran away from home and got as far as the eucalyptus trees by the main road out of Nicosia before being apprehended in my break for freedom. Funny, really, that what’s undoubtedly the most pedestrian form of locomotion also feels the most liberating to the spirit. In my dreams of escape I am forever walking, unhurried, towards a distant, flat horizon.
And what can come closer to that dream than walking in a desert? There’s something pure about desert walking: one foot in front of the other, stripped of distraction, the art of walking reduced to the barest of its essentials.
You rarely climb, you don’t scramble, you don’t march, you never stumble and you never, never run. There’s no watching your step, searching for a foothold, worrying about balance or wondering how to get through. Poles or sticks would only be an encumbrance, and legs do what legs do while the mind can decouple, float free, scan the skyline. A to B is almost always a straight line, and you can usually see B from A before you start. Distances can be estimated at a glance. Rhythm — that most subtle of pleasures and the wings to any hiker’s heels — comes easy.
And the thing about walking in hot, dry deserts is that it needn’t be all that hot, you needn’t be thirsty, it won’t rain, and when you want to sleep you only need a pillow. In short, walking the desert is just walking.
My Saharan walks with Arab guides have been four or five-day journeys that typically involved only about ten miles a day walking and sublime stops for meals, snacks, lemonade and water.
Nothing can beat it. I love the English fells, the Derbyshire Dales, the open slopes of the Pyrenees, and in places such as these I intend to keep walking until, at 70, God willing, I get new knees.
But the desert is my favourite. For, as desert travellers will endlessly tell you, the desert is many deserts, and only rarely a flat, monotonous waste. The big picture is flat, but within the big picture you pass countless small pictures, many landscapes in a single day — hills, rock gorges, oases, rolling gravel plains, and intense little sand deserts too. Your surroundings change constantly.
The walking itself is surprisingly gentle. There are no great slogs, no unforgiving mountain slopes, and if you do tire — although few of my companions ever have — there’s usually a camel or two following the group that (with complaining snorts, and farting alarmingly) carry you swaying across the sand until you conclude that it’s actually more pleasant to walk.
Serious walkers know to pace themselves; never to get breathless or hurry in the heat; to try to break into a sweat as infrequently as possible; to cover your skin — no bare heads, legs or arms — in loose-fitting, light cotton; and to see your environment not as a fearful, hellish threat, but as a beautiful and fragile place, to be respected and worked with, not against.
Climbing in Scotland and Spain, hill-walking in England, even walking the country roads of Derbyshire, I have so many memories of biting off more than I could chew, of getting exhausted, horribly overheated, or uncomfortably chilly; memories of racing pulse, panting for breath, sweating, shivering and forever putting layers on and taking layers off.
Desert walking — partly because you know from the start that you’re taking on something much bigger than you, from which rescue would not be straightforward, and you must keep well within your capabilities at all times — turns into a gentler and more level experience. I’ve had days in the Sahara when my pulse rarely quickened.
And the nights! Our Saharan guides would try to arrange that there was sand where we slept. Scoop out a little depression for your hip, lay out a blanket, put down your pillow — and that’s it. The feeling of being completely exposed is at first strange, even uncomfortable, horribly exposed; but by the time your trip is over and you return home, it will be your first night enclosed in a bedroom that feels all wrong. Now you are trapped again. But you can dream: dream of a bed that’s only a blanket, from which you rise and walk across a landscape without walls, to a distant horizon. That’s the meaning of a walk in the desert.
‘I walk 12 miles a day, I’m hooked’: Polly Vernon.
I started walking — serious walking — 17 years ago. One morning, the bus I relied on to take me to work didn’t come. Exasperated, I started walking the bus route, assuming my arrival at one or other of the later stops would coincide with the arrival of the bus. It didn’t. So I walked on, and on, and finally arrived at my office on foot — a little blistery, a little sweaty, but triumphant, and only half an hour later than I would have been had my bus arrived when it was supposed to.
So the next day I walked the bus route again. And the day after. And the day after that. Within a fortnight I was hooked. There was such a complete ease to walking, something so liberating about opting out of the push, stress and crush of the London transport system. More than anything else, there was something so incredibly sensible, so natural about it, that I couldn’t have stopped walking had I wanted to. Which I didn’t. When, a couple of weeks after that, I began to register fully the impact walking was having on my body — how it was toning my thighs, lifting my bum, flattening my stomach — well, I started walking home too.
Now, 17 years into my walking habit, 17 years of averaging 12.5 miles — about 25,000 steps — a day, I would describe myself as a raving walking addict.
Walking is central to my wellbeing. It is the thing I factor into my daily schedule with as much dedication as I do sleep and food. On the incredibly rare occasions I really can’t walk — because I have to catch an early flight somewhere, say — I will be in a foul mood as a consequence.
What does walking do for me? It keeps me thin. People who walk are more likely to lose weight, and maintain weight loss, than those who do any other forms of exercise; it is easier to sustain; it has infinitely more purpose than any machine you’re likely to find in a gym.
That’s all pretty obvious. Perhaps less obvious are the mental health benefits of walking. Walking is meditative, it is endorphin-releasing. It reconnects you with the physical world you inhabit, it shows you stuff you’d otherwise miss: skies, the tiling on the front of pubs, errant puppies. For all these reasons, walking calms me absolutely. I can start a walk in any sort of mood — anxious, angry, hungover, heartbroken, overburdened, grieving, hyped and giddy — and within 20 minutes of one foot hitting the pavement, of then weaving through traffic and cutting through parks — I will be OK. I will be calm. I will even be approaching contentment.
When you walk, you inject an hour or two of guaranteed, uninterrupted sanity into your day. All you need is sturdy trainers, a sturdy umbrella and an extra half-hour or so, time stolen back from aimless internet trawling.