Walking for health after retirement

Any one reading my blog will know that I enjoy walking. Most weekends I go out with a walk in the past history group and we walk four or five miles often up and down hills.

A cow in the river
A Constable moment

My husband took this photograph near Bradford on Avon on our walk last week.  I love learning more about the history of our local area and visiting the countryside which is looking its best at this time of year. I know walking is good for both my mental and physical health and am keen to encourage others to share my interest.

The start of the walking for health initiative

Before I retired I worked as a nurse in a local nursing home for the elderly. I witnessed at first hand the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle in a bid to prevent illness and disability as we age. I also saw the problems faced by those people who did not.  This led to me becoming interested in how to encourage older people to stay healthy.

A few years ago I was lucky enough to obtain a place on a health promotion course run jointly by the University of the West of England here in Bristol and our local NHS trust. As part of the assessment we had to complete a research project. I chose to study how to prevent violence in the care setting but the other participants also discussed their research with me.

One of the other students was involved in a new initiative by the government to promote walking for health. Research had shown that older people were adopting an increasingly sedentary lifestyle and this was leading to a rise in obesity and diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart problems. Inactivity is also associated with an increased incidence of depression and anxiety.

The government’s plan was to organise free walks of about three miles and encourage every one to come along. My colleague’s study was based in a poor part of inner city Bristol where there was a high degree of isolation and loneliness among the elderly. They discovered that many people were afraid to leave their homes. It was decided that in order to encourage people to participate all walks would end with a free tea or coffee and biscuits.

When people turned up for their first walk they were asked to fill in a questionnaire asking about health problems and also feelings of loneliness and other mental health problems. This questionnaire was repeated after about six months. The organisers were surprised to find out how popular the walks were and the number of participants who became regular walkers.

When they analysed the second batch of questionnaires  every one was surprised to find that although people reported feeling fitter and having more stamina most people thought that the chance to visit new places and make new friends was far more important.

Other studies have shown that walking regularly helps prevent osteoporosis, some types of cancer and possibly the onset of dementia. Government guidelines suggest that older adults should have about 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week.

Walking for health today

The walking for health initiative has continued to grow. There are now schemes all over England. Volunteers still lead three mile walks.  Locally they have also added shorter walks, and buggy walks for young mothers. Unfortunately you no longer get a free drink and biscuits but they often end with a visit to a coffee shop.

Here is a link to the walking for health website if you want to find out more. Walking for health  you should be able to find details of your local walks.

A few tips if you are new to walking for health.

  • Wear sensible shoes! Trainers or sandals are fine for urban walks but proper walking boots are best for walking in the county side.
  • Thin layers are best if the weather is likely to be changeable.
  • It is always good to walk with others but if you are on your own take a phone and tell someone your route and when you expect to get back
  • You need to become breathless from time to time
  • know your capabilities.

Remember although walking will help you to get fit you can’t out walk a poor diet. If you want to lose weight you will need to adopt a healthy eating plan as well as increase the amount of exercise you take.

One of our favourite walks

This is folly farm which is owned by Avon Wildlife trust.

A favourite walk through the woods
A walk through Folly farm

This post will be added to a link party for blogging grandparents. I would love to know any tips you have for keeping fit.