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Walking for health

For some people, getting into the great outdoors can be a life-saver. Groups which promote walking as a means of improving health are an increasing phenomenon along the Wales Coast Path. Walking has even been endorsed as a way of getting and staying healthy in 2011 by the Chief Medical Officers (CMO) of the four UK nations.

With the latest Welsh Health Survey revealing that more than half of Welsh adults are overweight, there’s never been a more pressing need to get active.

From the Welsh border in the north to Chepstow in the south east, the Wales Coast Path offers 870 miles of coastline to choose from, for people all abilities to embark on walking their way to health. Arry Beresford-Webb, the Countryside Council for Wales’ Health and Recreation Advisor, said: “Brisk walking can benefit your mental and physical health and wellbeing, and provides people of all ages and abilities with a fantastic opportunity to form positive exercise habits. “As well as reaping the health and wellbeing benefits, the Wales Coast Path offers the opportunity to explore the great outdoors, the natural environment surrounding you and potentially discover new activities to take part in.”

The CMOs first UK-wide physical activity guidelines say that walking briskly for 30 minutes a day, five days a week was one way of meeting their recommendations for adult physical activity.

Little wonder, then, that the Wales Coast Path’s stunning coastal landscape is a perfect stomping ground for groups such as the Pembrokeshire-based Walkability Project. Established last year by the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority and Sport Wales, it helps people take up walking and make the most of the walking opportunities on offer to them. Paul Casson, Project Coordinator, said: “The Walkability Project helps people to get out and use the Park to recover from an illness or just to improve their fitness, no matter what level they are starting from. With more than 140 sessions delivered to over 1,800 up to June this year, it’s filled a real need for this kind of service.”

Chief Medical Officer for Wales, Dr Ruth Hussey, said: “Walking is easy, gentle exercise and a great way to get active. It’s the perfect exercise to start doing in small amounts and build slowly, and small lifestyle changes can have a big impact on your health. “Wales boasts some of the most beautiful coastline in the world, so there’s no reason not to get out and enjoy the Coast Path.”

As well as a boost to physical health, putting your best foot forward on the Wales Coast Path can do wonders for mental health. A survey by mental health charity, MIND, found that:

  • 90% of people who took part in green exercise activities said that the combination of nature and exercise is most important in determining how they feel.
  • 94% of people commented that green exercise improves their mental health.
  • 90% of people commented that taking part in green exercise activities benefits their physical health.

A MIND spokesman said: “Research has demonstrated that supervised programmes of exercise can be equally effective as antidepressants in treating mild to moderate depression.” Paul added: “A group that came from a support group for those with mental health issues formed their own walking team which have been meeting at a central public spot since last December. “Their commitment has been such that they have met weekly with very few breaks and now walk for up to three hours, covering up to six miles. They have even organised a session for themselves when I have been unavailable.”

To find a walk visit Explore the path.


Walking Fact Panel

1. How many calories can I burn?

  • Half an hour strolling – burns 75 calories
  • Half an hour’s walk – burns 99 calories
  • Half and hour’s fast walk burns 150 calories

Source: At least five a week, Department of Health, 2004, for an average person, weighing 9.5 stone.

2. How can walking improve my health?

  • Regular brisk walking: Improves performance of the heart, lungs and circulation. Lower blood pressure. Reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and strokes
  • Walking regularly at any speed: Helps manage weight. Reduces the risk of Type 2 diabetes Reduces the risk of certain cancers Improves the flexibility and strength of joints, muscles and bones, and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Increases ‘good’ cholesterol. Boosts the immune system.

3. How can walking improve my mental health?

Releases endorphins which improve mood and reduce stress and anxiety. Improves sleep patterns. Reduces risk of suffering clinical depression. Regular physical activity is at least as effective as antidepressant drugs in treating mild and moderate depression. Increases likelihood of talking to neighbours and making friends. Walking in a group is a sociable activity that can help improve mental health and overcome feelings of isolation. Spending time in the outdoors and in contact with the natural environment can have a positive effect on mental health. Feeling fitter and controlling weight helps improve your body image and confidence.

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