A paper by scientists has drawn a shocking conclusion - that far from being healthy, going hillwalking is in fact detrimental to mental and physical health. Their findings make grim reading.
"Our authoritative last word may fly in the face of received wisdom" say the report's authors, Dr Ahluv Sitten and Dr Khanna B. Harst of Grimnorth University, "but it's time these lazy assumptions were challenged. The health benefits of walking have not only been massively overtstated; in fact it is positively doing us harm. This paper should herald a step change in our assessment of the risks of travel on foot."
The study, which according to its authors was carried out on a 'rigorously representative sample group in the catering facilities of Mount Snowdon', identifies a series of dangers associated with walking, from the direct risks it poses to physical and mental health, to knock-on environmental impacts.
- Biomechanical changes wrought by repeated footfall, ranging from overextension of the extensor to striations of the sacroiliac.
- The modern urban leg/foot/ankle is not adapted for walking away from flat tarmac, believes Dr Ahluv Sitten. As a result, per capita more sprains and fractures occur on mountain paths than escalators and pavements. "It's obvious really" he says. "Anecdotally you never hear of Mountain Rescue Teams being called to assist shoppers on your local high street; yet they are forever stretchering walkers with lower leg injuries off the hills."
- An increase in the risk of tooth decay due to the over consumption of sugary snacks. "Jelly babies are a no-no" says Dr Sitten "Stick to cheese."
- Exposure to wet weather causing more colds. "The notion that the common cold is a virus is simply a myth" chips in Dr Khanna B. Harst. "The clue is in the name. Cold. It's weather dependent. Fact. And who experiences worse weather than a British hillwalker? It's no wonder you're all so sniffy."
- Aerobic over-metabolisation. "I'll put it in simple terms that even a hack like you can understand" Dr Harst tells us, a little insultingly. "Basically, if you breathe too deeply in fresh air, for too long, then the body's tissues become over-oxygenated. This leads to misplaced euphoria, a bogus sense of bon ami amongst climbing partners, and an unexpected surge of energy. A dangerous cocktail. Literally anything could happen."
- A statistically significant increased incidence of ennui among regular walkers versus less active soles. Dr Harst attributes this to what she has christened the 'highland high; lowland low phenomenon'. "You've been out for what you wrongly believed was a fantastic walk in the hills" she explains. "You've come home literally bursting with endolphins, inspired by the views and the hearty challenge of your walk. All that false over-metabolised energy and misplaced euphoria I was just telling you about? Well compared to that, who wouldn't find normal home and office life a little flat, a bit, well, depressing? Think about it for a minute and it's obviously true. You don't even need so-called evidence to tell you."
- Drinking non-chlorinated water straight off the ground exposes walkers to pathogens such as peat tannin and grass juice. "Only drink industrial bottled water and canned continental lagers" advises Dr Sitten. "I like the fizzy stuff. If you think it's too heavy to carry then just don't walk so far. Better yet, stay in the bar."
- Time spent sedentary while driving to the hills contributes more to the average walker's weekly hours of inactivity than they gain in exercise tokens: we would all be better off on the treadmill at our local gymn, according to the report. Assuming we drive there of course.
In addition to the medical effects, the report paints a gloomy picture of the impact to the planet that can be directly attributed to what it calls the 'bizarre modern craze for foot-based leisure travel'.
Put bluntly, the experts believe that the carbon footprint of hillwalking and mountaineering is killing the environment.
"One person completing all the Munros will incur a metabollic energy requirement (assuming 960kg male) in excess of 17,000 MJ" insists Dr Ahluv Sitten.
"Assuming a 50:50 oxidation of carbohydrate and fat means 4.9 tonnes of CO2 will be produced. The manufacturing CO2 burden of new 'non-essential' outdoor equipment every couple of months DRAMATICALLY worsens this. The effect is exacerbated among the cohort of walkers involved in gear reviews."
"It is very clear this problem of human activity persists within certain cohorts of people. A recent study modelled the carbon footprint of sedentary people, Munro (n=282) baggers and Corbett Top (n=673) 'enthusiasts'. This showed that Corbett Top baggers generate the greatest CO2 burden; even though these are lower the effect of a greater number of these tops swamps that of the more lofty Munros. This relationship is accentuated further when corrected for household income which emerged as an influential variable. This can be attributed to increased access to the latest, overpriced lightweight equipment which slightly reduces the energy expenditure of human movement."
"Then more seriously there are the apparent 'health benefits'. This means, the regular exercise gained from pursuing mountain activities results in increased longevity. This triggers a cascade effect of increased carbon footprint due to the food and energy-burden of the added years of life and so-called happiness, not to mention drain on long-suffering spouses and family members."
"In summary: I would not bother. There are much better ways to pass the time than boring old walking, and some of them might even be healthy."
Fired up by all this science, which the experts made look so easy, UKH thought we'd try a bit ourselves. So we donned a breathable lab coat to ask a cross-sample of diners at a local McDonalds drive-by what they felt about hill walking. Comments included:
"I tried walking up Arthur's Seat and it really messed with my chain smoking. Like, I could hardly breathe!"
"Anything that's painful has to be bad for you"
"If I'm more than five minutes from the nearest burger bar I feel anxious. Is it possible to get literally too hungry?"
"I took my Evoque up Snowdon but parking was a mare"
"Mobile reception is crap and you can get better views on Flickr"
"What is a hill?"
"A sheep once looked at me sideways. I swear it was gonna kick off"
"I totally mucked up a brand new pair of white Adidas on Bleaklow. Why don't they just pave it?"
"What is 'walking'?"