This is a picture taken last October. I’m with Alan Hinkes, a good friend of mine - he’s a high-altitude mountaineer, the only Briton to have climbed all 14 of the world’s peaks over 8,000 metres.
The photo was taken in Langdale Valley in the UK’s Lake District, one of my favourite places in the world. Hill walking is a passion of mine. Michelle and I have been walking in the mountains for over 30 years and we do it as much as we can. With the ‘stay at home’ guidance in place for much of the last year we’ve been enjoying walking a lot around Bath where we live, but we really miss getting to places like the Lake District to tackle the hills. The week of walking we had in October was special because it’s the only time we’ve been able to do it for over a year.
It’s become a bit of a ritual among our Executive Team and our Board during the last year to check which t-shirt I’ve got on when we have our meetings. When the first lockdown started, I had a couple of North Face t-shirts – now I have 23, so I’m usually wearing one of them! It’s a silly thing really, but it’s a way to remind me of what I miss so much, which is the outdoors, the mountains and the hills. The t-shirts are my connection to something I hold very dear.
There are lots of reasons why I enjoy it so much – the physical exertion, the sense of achievement, the scenery, the biodiversity, the feeling of being part of nature, the history of the Earth – all of this has a hugely positive impact on me. A flask of coffee and a cheese sandwich sat on top of a mountain is a joy I can’t replace with anything else.
And it so happens that the thing I love doing is also hugely beneficial for my physical and mental health. The statistics about what hill walking does for you physically are fantastic: it can reduce your chance of heart disease by 35%; lower your risk of osteoporosis by 83%; cuts the risk of diabetes and cancer by up to 50%; and can be a more effective treatment for anxiety and depression than antidepressants.
With so many people taking up walking as something to do and a way to exercise during the Covid lockdowns, many of us will now be seeing and experiencing these physical and wellbeing benefits.
Whatever it is that you enjoy doing, and makes you happy, I’m a strong believer in making the time to do it – we all need to get the balance right between work and downtime, never more so than in the last year of working from home when the lines between the two have been more blurred.
It’s critical that organisations prioritise employee health and wellbeing, but we also all have an individual responsibility for self-awareness and self-care, and know what we need to do to enable that.
And for leaders it’s even more important. You need to do the things you enjoy to keep a good balance in your life – this helps you to perform at your best, to be able to give your best to your team, and importantly, it means you’re role-modelling this behaviour to the people you work with.
The great thing with hill walking is that it’s all encompassing – you can’t think about work when you’re making your way up a steep incline – it takes all your effort and focus! It also gives you a sense of perspective, and for me that really helps prevent stress and provides a welcome contrast to the challenges of work.
I can’t wait to get my boots back on and get back up a mountain!
Find out more about the benefits of hill walking.