12 March 2018 by Robyn Stephens
Nature has a pivotal role to play in supporting people’s health & wellbeing, so it’s good to see that the Government’s new 25 Year Plan aims to achieve this through improved access to the environment.
Walking is a great way for people to connect to the environment around them and it is no secret that it brings great physical benefits. For example, it’s a simple way of achieving the recommended 150 minutes of moderate activity a week which could help people maintain a healthy weight.
It’s well documented that there is an obesity problem in this country and recently the Department of Transport revealed in the latest National Travel Survey that walking trip rates decreased by 19% between 2005 and 2015. The Government’s ambitions to reduce childhood obesity will be difficult to achieve. However, encouraging children to be “close to nature, in and out of school” through implementing a Nature Friendly Schools Programme and providing support to schools to establish programmes which will increase pupil contact with local natural spaces like city farms or nature reserves are important and will hopefully have an impact.
Walking also helps to reduce stress and anxiety, improving people’s mental wellbeing as well as their physical health. It is therefore encouraging that the Plan looks at promoting alternative, outdoor, therapies for people with mild to moderate mental health conditions. It commits the Government to looking at “how NHS mental health providers in England could work with environmental voluntary sector organisations to offer mental health therapies”, sharing best practice and developing standardised tools.
Our Walking for Health programme provides short walks for people - including those with low activity levels and chronic health conditions - and already works with GPs and other health practitioners to promote prescriptions for activity (such as walking) to help people improve their health. People can also join the short walks in many of our local groups’ walk programmes.
But if we’re going to encourage more people to get outside to improve their health we will need to improve the quality of the environment.
As well as green spaces, the Government needs to recognise that we have other fantastic assets - the Public Rights Of Way network, access land and National Trails – that the public can use for free. However, for people to enjoy the health benefits of these assets they need to be well maintained.
During last year’s general election, the Ramblers called for “a country designed for walking” and a plan for the environment which would protect and enrich it. Walking is an accessible activity for many but at the moment our access infrastructure is suffering from spending cutbacks. It’s critical that the Government supports local authorities with the funding needed to keep these paths well maintained, so they can be accessible and enjoyable for everyone.
The Government is aiming to connect people of all ages and backgrounds to nature to improve their wellbeing. It is crucial over the next 25 years that it invests in an environment which encourages people from all walks of life to enjoy the benefits of the outdoors and we are ready to help them get people walking again.
Why don't you visit the Walking for Health
website to find your nearest health walk and bring a friend along with you?