Walkers in the Howgills, CumbriaHave you made your New Year resolutions yet? Did one of those pledges include joining a gym to burn off the Christmas excess?

Walkers in the Howgills, Cumbria

Well, don’t bother! You can save yourself hundreds of pounds and shed a few off your waist by stepping into the Outdoor Gym. Getting and keeping fit doesn’t have to involve listening to the latest Girls Aloud ditty while sweating in Lycra.

Natural England (NE), the Government body charged with caring for our natural environment, has set out to remind us that we’re only a few steps away from the nearest free exercise area, whether that’s the local park or the nearest fell. It has coined the phrase the Outdoor Gym and is urging us all to take up membership.

Sir Martin Doughty, chair of Natural England NE chair Sir Martin Doughty said: “Walking for pleasure shouldn’t be saved for once a year. Parks, rights of way and England’s unique wildlife and landscapes are all there to be enjoyed and the views are substantially better than those you get from a treadmill. What’s more, they’re often free.”

Sir Martin Doughty, chair of Natural England

The health advisor to NE, Dr William Bird, said: “It’s been shown that the great outdoors is the best motivator to keep people walking and active. It’s also the easiest form of exercise to make part of your daily routine and the significant effect it can have on reducing or coping with stress really can make a difference to people’s lives.”

NE says there are now 31,500 walk leaders, ready to encourage those who want to be more active in the great outdoors. They have been trained under the Walking the Way to Health Initiative. However, for those who would rather just take off on their own, grough has the following advice: put your best foot forward, then bring the other one to a position slightly ahead of it. Continue this pattern for as long as it takes to get there and back.

Just remember: if you’re heading for the hills, take care and plan ahead. Don’t become a mountain rescue statistic. Use the experts’ advice in our feature about the rescuers’ education programme. And enjoy yourself!

You burn 150 calories for every mile you walk; more if it’s up the side of a mountain. 30 minutes walking every day will use the energy contained in six Mars bars.

Walking also beefs up your metabolism, so even when you’re not hotfooting it, your body will be working better. Exercise increases your ability to concentrate and lowers your stress levels.

Your immune system receives a 24-hour boost after a good walk – vital if you’re going to be able to fight off those winter bugs.

Build-up of muscle due to walking protects joints and makes them more resilient.

Going for a walk in your nearest park or in the countryside on your doorstep is the greenest form of exercise – and you’re likely to see lots of wildlife you might not have realised was there.

You’re never more than 80km (50 miles) from a National Trail in England.

So what are you waiting for? Get those boots on and get walking. And if you really can’t do without Girls Aloud, take your MP3 player.

Details of Natural England’s health campaign are on its website.