Scots need to put their best foot forward

SCOTLAND needs to sit less and walk more. Every step is a step to health. Walk more, says Dr Andrew Murray, and you will live longer, feel healthier and be happier. Just walk, that’s all.

No need to run a marathon or cycle to France. Just wander up to the shops every now and again instead of taking the car, or walk to work and save the bus fare.

Which all seems a little tame, to be honest, coming from the man who has run from John O’Groats to the Sahara desert (that’s a mere 2,600 miles, in case you were counting), won the North Pole Marathon and completed seven ultra-marathons on seven continents in under a week. This year he plans to run across east Africa.

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Basically, anything longer than 50km and Murray is interested. “Essentially you get to a marathon, then just keep going for as long as you fancy.”

Incredibly, the 32-year-old GP, who is also president of Ramblers Scotland, only took up running in 2005, while he was backpacking in rural Nepal. “One of my mates left some valuables at a camp a day’s walk away, so to get there I thought I’d just jog back.”

On the way, he ran – literally – into some people training for the Everest marathon, which planted a seed in his mind. He trained, competed in his first 10K – “I was absolutely destroyed at the end of it” – then was back in Nepal for the Everest event.

Since then he has seen many “amazing places”, some of which may seem a little weird and hostile, he admits, but each of which has an element of beauty. Outer Mongolia. The mountains of Antarctica, Patagonia and the Andes. The deserts of Dubai. The mean streets of North America. “I remember running through the streets of Cairo. There wasn’t a full-on riot going on, but politically it was a bit tetchy,” he says.

“It was dark, the streets are not very smooth, so difficult to run in, there’s no street lighting and I was really tired. I just thought, ‘Why am I doing this?’ It was hot, it was oppressive. Then I arrived at the pyramids and saw the Sphinx looking at me, and it was just amazing. That’s why I do it.”

The most difficult part of running seven ultras in seven days was not the physical discomfort of going from –25°C to 30°C in such a short space of time, but simply staying awake long enough to complete the challenge. “I was going to compete in the Antarctic Ice Marathon anyway,” he says, “and instead of coming back via North America, South America, then Europe, I thought I’d go the whole hog. “It was an epic sightseeing trip, with some running built in. But I was really tired. I only slept for nine hours in five nights.”

Murray says he simply fits his training into his life. So, for instance, if he has four meetings in a day, he just runs between them, saving his bus fare into the bargain. “It’s not just exercise but a form of transport as well,” he says.

Now he’s in training for his African adventure, and insists that people should never underestimate what they’re capable of doing. “Getting any kind of exercise is the single best thing someone can do for their health. Something as simple as walking for 30 minutes five times a week means you are 30 per cent less likely to suffer an early death.

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“You can also prevent a huge range of diseases that are prevalent in Scotland, things like diabetes, some types of cancer, heart disease and strokes. The single biggest predictor of how long people live is how much exercise they do. Our chief medical officer is clear that we can save around 650 lives a year just by getting Scotland on the move.

“It doesn’t really matter what you do,” he adds, “something is better than nothing. And in terms of physical activity, you get a really good bang for your walking buck.

“If you get folk to sit less and walk more, it will be a healthier and happier country.”

Twitter: @Ruth_Lesley