National Park Health Walks tackle rural isolation

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Walk in the Park, led by Loch Lomond and The Trossachs Countryside Trust, has received a Certificate of Excellence from Age Scotland for encouraging people back to health and fitness whist combatting isolation in rural communities.

Walker quoteThe low-level walks in the National Park started in 2007 and now have over 100 participants in Balloch, Callander, Aberfoyle and Killin. The walks last between 45 minutes and an hour and are tailored to suit all levels of mobility. Many of the participants have been referred to the project by GPs and physiotherapists, others have self-referred themselves and joined the walking groups. Providing recovery from operations such as hip and knee replacements, or offering a safe walking environment to Parkinson’s or dementia patients, the walks are being promoted by health professionals. The Countryside Trust work closely with NHS Scotland with part funding from Paths for All, Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, Forestry Commission Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage.

Speaking about the accreditation, Cathy Scott Walk in the Park Coordinator said, “We’re delighted that the Walk in the Park project has been formally recognised as a great way to vastly improve both mental and physical wellbeing to people living in rural communities. Often people can become isolated living in villages without means of transport to help them get out and about. Our walks provide not only rehabilitation to wellness but also a social network to help people who are on their own and others who suffer with mental illness such as depression. We are very lucky to live in such a beautiful part of Scotland and studies have shown that getting out and enjoying the countryside has a positive impact on health and wellbeing. We take every measure to make sure the groups are inclusive with volunteers walking at different paces to suit all abilities. I’m incredibly proud to be part of this project and to watch members grow in confidence and fitness.”

Keith Robson, Age Scotland Chief Executive, commented, “Keeping physically active is the single best way to keep well as you get older.  A walk in one of Scotland’s stunning National Parks is just one of the many activities you can do to get some exercise that will improve your physical and mental well-being. Walk in the Park is a brilliant initiative and Age Scotland was delighted to be able to recognise the excellent work done to help more people to love later life.”

In July 2013 Paths for All commissioned a Social Return on Investment (SROI) study to analyse the impact of a similar programme running in Glasgow. The study revealed that for every £1 invested in the Glasgow Health Walks there were £8 of benefits generated for society. Health Walks were proved to make people fitter, healthier and happier.

Along with the Health Walks, the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs Countryside Trust run a Strength and Balance Programme. Weekly workshops are run before or after the walks and combine strength and balance exercises with advice on walking to help older adults stay active and independent.

Walker quoteSue Watson, Senior Physiotherapist for the Rural North West Forth Valley Partnership spoke about the success of the programme, “Walk in the Park provides a really valuable service that promotes a long-term commitment to keeping mobile and all the associated health benefits. As a community rehab team working in the National Park it is fantastic that we can refer patients on to the Strength and Balance classes led by the Walk in the Park team knowing that the classes are safe and supervised by experienced staff. We regularly see great changes in confidence and fitness from the people taking part.”

The walks are proving so successful that a new group was launched on 4th May in Drymen. The walks are open to anybody looking for regular exercise and good company.  May is National Walking Month and with five active groups there are now even more opportunities to take part and enjoy Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park.  An important part of the programme is the social side to the walks and group members regularly include a café stop into their walks.

There are friendly incentives for everyone taking part in the weekly walks with awards being offered for people who reach their 50th (bronze) and 100th (silver) walks.

Find out more about Walk in the Park on their website. Find out more about our Walk your Way to Better Strength and Balance Programme.

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