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Natural England reports highlight opportunities to make Walking for Health even more effective
Published: 1st August 2012
Three reports on Walking for Health (WfH) have been published this week by Natural England, which highlight some key achievements of the programme, as well as areas which we can improve on in future.
The three reports look at attendance, the impact WfH had on physical activity levels and the costs of the initiative in the period of investment by the Department of Health up to March 2011, prior to the handover of the WfH national centre to the Ramblers in partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support.
What were the findings?
The researchers found a notable increase in the number of people who moved from doing practically no physical activity at all to doing at least half an hour on 1-2 days a week. This shows that Walking for Health can be of great benefit in encouraging sedentary people to make the first steps towards a healthier, more active lifestyle. Experts agree that the greatest gain in public health terms from increases in physical activity is in those people who move from doing practically nothing to doing something, so this is a very significant finding.
However, one of the key findings from the reports was that over half of those who registered for health walks were already active for at least half an hour on at least three or more days a week when they began taking part. In addition, only 7% of participants had been recommended to the programme by their GP. This suggests that WfH is attracting a large proportion of people who are already at least moderately active, and that more may need to be done to reach those who do little to no activity and who could most benefit from the programme.
On a positive note, the reports suggest that Walking for Health is providing a valuable service to those who, without support, may have felt they could no longer take part in physical activity at all. The researchers point out that many of the participants are older people who are no longer able to continue being as active as they once were. This use of Walking for Health as a ‘step down’ also helps to explain why the reports showed many older participants and those with long term illnesses had reduced the number days of physical activity they were doing per week compared to when they started taking part.
Looking to the future
We intend to work closely with Walking for Health schemes across the country to build on the findings of these reports and ensure that more people who are not sufficiently physically active or who have been affected by long term health conditions are encouraged to take part, particularly through recommendations from health professionals. Macmillan Cancer Support’s strong relationships within the professional health community will be instrumental in helping us to achieve this.
We are also confident that the experience of the Ramblers in delivering Get Walking Keep Walking, which has been acknowledged by the World Health Organisation as "an example of best practice of physical activity promotion to socially disadvantaged groups", will help to support schemes and ensure that in the future Walking for Health is reaching even more of those most in need of support to improve their activity levels.