Feeling confident and safe will help people living with dementia to join Health Walks

Dr Paul Kelly is a lecturer in Physical Activity for Health at the University of Edinburgh and a Paths for All board member. He shares his thoughts on why encouraging more people living with dementia to enjoy everyday walking is important.

Dementia Friendly Walking, Stirling

Walking is one of the easiest forms of physical activity that is accessible to most of the population. You don’t need any special gear or setting in order to go for walk. It does not cost anything. So often we do not even notice that we have done a lot of walking on any given day, because it so natural and seamlessly incorporated in our day as a means of getting around as we get our chores done.

There are many ways in which exercise increases physical wellbeing, such as development of strength and balance, increase in general mobility, reduction for the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, regulation of blood sugar, lowering of cholesterol among many others.  Physical exercise might slow the development of some symptoms related to dementia or even reverse them. Alongside physical health, walking contributes to mental wellbeing as well. People who regularly spend time walking report that the symptoms related to depression and anxiety are lessened and that their overall wellbeing and subjective happiness has increased.

Confidence and safety are the two main aspects that help people with dementia to start walking. By joining a Health Walk all participants can be sure that their individual needs and mobility are considered when deciding upon a route. Running Health Walks and creating buddy systems is a way of ensuring that everyone who desires to walk, can do so in the company of trained volunteers.

Raising awareness among health professionals, people living with dementia, their carers and family members is likely to increase the number of people with dementia who go walking as a part of their self-care routine.
 
Promoting walking in the long-term can prove to be one of the most cost-effective forms of treatment (not to replace, but rather supplement necessary medication). Local authorities could focus on creating more green spaces that are accessible to people with dementia. Creating dementia friendly spaces benefits all members of society, as they incorporate many features that different members of community would appreciate, such as suitable space and tarmac for prams, wheelchairs and walking aids. It is especially important to improve accessibility in lower income urban areas, as a large proportion of elderly people live in lower income neighbourhoods.

To contribute to the wellbeing of the elderly in our community, it is important to identify which neighbourhoods most necessitate an investment. Importantly, one should not forget that walking is also the most environmentally friendly form of commute. Therefore, by investing in walking, we are creating long lasting benefits for the local and the global community.

Going on walks with other people is a great way to promote walking. The health benefits of walking can be an indirect goal for many people, who primarily go on walks to socialise with others. Research has shown that loneliness and alienation is a constitutive and possibly a causal feature for many mental illnesses, which are also prominent amongst people with dementia.

Spending time with other people reduces stress, improves one`s mood and creates an overall positive outlook on life. Therefore, socialising and being an active part of a community is fundamental to the mental and emotional wellbeing of everyone, but even more important to people with dementia, who have a higher risk of experiencing depression, anxiety and feelings of alienation.

Check out Paths for All's network of Health Walks, Dementia Friendly Walks and Cancer Friendly Walks, led by trained volunteers, across Scotland on our online map.

Read more about the links between walking and mental health in the paper: Walking on sunshine: scoping review of the evidence for walking and mental health.

 

 


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