Walking thanks to the National Lottery
This month the national lottery is turning 25 and it’s thanks to their funding, via Sport England, that Ramblers Walking for Health is able to exist and create a positive impact to both individuals and communities across the country.
Their 25th birthday is a moment to celebrate the extraordinary impact The National Lottery has had on the UK, and to say thank you to National Lottery players for contributing around £30 million to good causes every week.
Mother of four and grandmother Louise Trewern, 52, has lived with pain all her life. But walking has come to play a major part in how she now manages her pain, and has led to her helping others by setting a up a special Walking For Health group in South Devon, aimed at people who are living with pain or a long-term health condition. This is her story.
My pain started when I was a child. There was no explanation – all the tests came back negative, and it was put down to things like ‘growing pains’. Eventually having a diagnosis of fibromyalgia helped – being able to give what was wrong with me a name – but I also now had arthritis, and I had started to develop crippling back pain.
I was prescribed opiods, which I took for a decade and a half. Initially they worked well, but over time they became less and less effective. I developed all sorts of side effects, up to the point where, during a dinner party, I started to develop severe chest pains. My friends called an ambulance – but yet again, tests found nothing.
By now I had met Karen, who is now my wife. At our lowest point, Karen became my full time carer, and I was becoming less and less engaged with daily life. The opioids were doing me more harm than good – I couldn’t even interact with my grandchildren.
Eventually I was referred back to the pain service and met a brilliant Clinical Nurse Specialist and, after many sessions learning coping skills and with the help of an amazing consultant, I went into community hospital to come off the opioids! The consultant told me that if I paced the ward when the withdrawal effects were bad it would fire the endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, and it worked!!
Back at home, to help deal with the withdrawal symptoms, Karen and I started to go out walking. She suggested flat places, like parks and roads, where I felt I could cope – at first, I was using a walking frame.
It was fun! One time at night I remember I was in pain – it was early in the year and it was dark and cold – we put on woolly hats and ear muffs and we felt like naughty children, being out on Teignmouth sea front when everyone else was asleep!
We found that we both felt better for being out and we started to go out walking every day. Now I was using walking poles, not my frame. It was a revelation – I was slowly replacing the opioids with a self-care cycle of walking.
It was like an awakening. I felt as if I had slept through my 40s, but slowly things were getting better. As I walked more, my sleep improved too, and eventually I was sleeping a full eight hours.
We walked in parks and gardens, and when we got to the end, I had such a sense of achievement. I remember the first time I walked two miles – for me it was huge! I would never have dreamed of doing it.
My fitness has improved, and I’ve lost eight and a half stone in weight. Walking has also been a real confidence booster – you start off thinking no way am I going to be able to do that, but achieving it helps your mood overall – it gives you a sense of achievement that breaks the cycle of downward – you feel like you are not going anywhere – you are in pain, just treading water – because of it.
At the beginning of 2019, I said to Karen that I wanted to start a walking group for people living with pain or long-term health conditions. I wanted to put on short, flat accessible walks for people who – like I had -- might be using a walking frame or feeling very unconfident.
Now we’ve set up ‘Walking Works Wonders’– a Level 1 (short/easy) walk in Teignbridge, Devon. We’re busy spreading the word locally; the council has been helping by putting posters up locally to advertise our walks – and the pain service at my local hospital have also been referring people to our walks.
On our first walk, there was a woman who had been referred by the pain clinic. She had walked previously, but had had to stop for health reasons. She was using a walking frame but was very unconfident and unsure she would be able to get round the country park we had chosen as the venue.
She came next week and she got all the way round. She was like a different woman – all smiles. She’d told me on her first week she had been thinking of getting rid of her walking boots—as she thought she would never use them again – but the second week she turned up in them! We hope she will be able to progress back up to longer walks, but we understand that people living with pain and with long term health conditions are not confident, and they need to feel these walks are being led by someone who has experienced what they are going through, and who will understand them.
As Karen says, the social side of walking is just as important as the health benefits and is a main reason why people come on Ramblers Walking for Health walks like ours. If you are in pain it can be very isolating – some people tell us that they look forward all week to a walk, and the coffee and the chat afterwards, because for the rest of the week they may be at home alone and not see anyone. It’s very important for the community. Looking to the future, we definitely want to build up our Ramblers Walking for Health walks – we are thinking about offering them in other areas too.
My walking tip would be to just try it. Being told to go for a walk can sound like a hideous suggestion if you are in pain, but– but if all you manage first time around is to get to the end of your driveway that’s brilliant – you’re walking! Then tomorrow maybe you can try and go a bit further. Build things up slowly and don’t push yourself beyond your limits – go as far as you can and stop when you feel you have done enough. The key is to start moving – after breakfast Karen and I will go out walking—when I am walking, I don’t hurt. I have got back control of my pain, rather than my pain controlling me.
Thank you [to the National Lottery and Sport England] for providing funding for Walking For Health. As my story shows, it’s really important.