Our challenge: Improving the health of Scotland’s people

Improving health commission: our response

Everyday Walking Infographic

The Scottish Government and COSLA’s Public Health Reform aims to create “a Scotland where everybody thrives”.

As part of this reform, the Improving Health Commission is looking into prioritising health as a human right, taking a Health in All Policies approach and prioritise prevention and community capacity.

Our Senior Development Officer, Ian McCall expresses our view on this:

We believe that walking should be at the heart of public health. Being more active through walking creates healthier and longer lives – and that takes pressure off our health and social care services.

Investing in walking and physical activity is an example of “preventative spend” and is important as pressure increases on NHS budgets, resources are reduced and our population ages. It is also important for supporting self-management of long-term conditions and enabling people to keep active for longer.

The economic benefits associated with increased physical activity levels far outweigh any initial costs. Cost Benefit Ratios for walking developments show significant value for money. Social Return on Investment (SROI) evidence shows a return of approximately £8 for every £1 invested in health walk and path development projects.

Paths for All believes that one of the most effective ways to improve our health is to increase physical activity levels. Walking has been proven to be the most popular, accessible and effective way of doing this. We believe that we can help people be more active by making walking part of all our daily lives.

The importance of physical activity and walking for health is well documented:

  • Being physically active can reduce the risk of diabetes by up to 40%
  • Regular physical activity has been estimated to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke by up to 35%
  • Healthy behaviours during mid-life such as regular physical exercise and maintaining a healthy diet and weight can decrease the risk of dementia
  • Being physically active at recommended levels can reduce the risk of depression by around a third

The National Conversation on a Healthier Scotland showed public support for more preventative approaches to health. One of the most common issues raised was:

the need for a far greater focus on preventing illness – through education and support to help us make healthy lifestyle choices.

Participation in sport varies by age, gender, deprivation and household income, but when we include walking for recreation, the gap narrows. Walking is therefore a good leveller and help tackle health inequalities.

Paths for All and our partners are involved in key areas of work that support the National Walking Strategy and plans for a healthier Scotland. We are very keen to engage more with the health and social care sector to share our experience and raise awareness of the opportunities. An important avenue that we feel should be promoted is better advice and signposting of opportunities for physical activity – including walking.

An aspect of this is social prescribing – which moves away from the assumption that prescription of medicine is always the answer health problems. Our recent annual Expert Lecture focussed on social prescribing to get Scotland active. The event highlighted the need for community-based activities to be available and accessible across Scotland - from Health Walks to gardening clubs to dance classes.

Paths for All's community based walking programmes show strong evidence for improvements in mental and social health, as well as physical health. By continuing to grow and develop community based physical activity programmes that are available and accessible for all, we can work towards a Scotland where everybody thrives.

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