A study by Sheffield Hallam University into short health walks has found that their success primarily hinges on social factors. The research shows that being able to socialise and enjoy company are key ways to achieve long-term behaviour change and improved health.
The Centre for Health and Social Care Research at Sheffield Hallam carried out a detailed study of a 'Walking for Health' group which is designed to help older people and those with long-term conditions to stay healthy and active. The group is one of many supported by the Ramblers and Macmillan Cancer Support.
The study showed that well organised regular walks with a good 'group dynamic' made the experience enjoyable for participants, motivating them to continue returning for more exercise.
Research proved that walking was good for health on different levels: it improved fitness and stamina, mobility, psychological wellbeing and also the capacity of walkers to manage their own health. The walking group studied was able to accommodate people with many different personal conditions. It also helped people to expand their personal networks, develop new friendships and become even more integrated into local community activities.
Author of the report Professor Gordon Grant, who is also a volunteer walk leader, said "Our study found that whilst regular walking has an overwhelmingly positive effect on health, participants noted that the associated social factors are vital in motivating them to walk regularly and stay active.”
"Though our walking group only started four years ago, we have up to 40 regular walkers who enjoy the buzz of meeting up every week, knowing that each walk is carefully researched and that they will return to a welcome cup of coffee in the pavilion. There is a definite feel-good factor which is more difficult to achieve with more solitary activities."
Simon Barnett, interim Programme Manager for Walking for Health at the Ramblers, added:
This study provides further evidence that walking regularly can have a positive effect on our health and wellbeing. It shows that short walks with a friendly group of people are effective at helping us get active and stay active.
"There are lots of reasons why so many of us have become more inactive. It could be due to recent ill health or simply because we’re getting older. But walking is a great way to maintain a level of physical activity that will help keep us fit and healthy. Best of all, Walking for Health walks are free, making them accessible to all.”