Walking yourself to physical and mental health at 81

Jim Snodgrass with South Queensferry Ramblers chair Moira Stewart

In 2014, South Queensferry man Jim Snodgrass went to his local GP seeking mental health support following the sad passing of his wife Sheila.

The doctor at Queensferry Practice chatted with Jim about his grief and his history of physical and mental health issues – including cancer, a heart bypass, longstanding mental ill health and hearing loss – before suggesting an inspired prescription: “Why not join your local Ramblers group?”

Four years on, 81-year-old Jim has developed a deep love of walking, a new friendship group and his health and wellbeing are hugely improved. 

Jim said: "Joining the Ramblers has been absolutely marvellous for me. I walk with my group every week and can’t praise my fellow members enough – and my doctor for encouraging me to join. 

"It is honestly just amazing how much walking has helped me. The walk leaders and members have all really looked after me, and my health has improved so much. One Ramblers friend says that I’m the only person she knows who gets younger every year.

"My daughter got me a step-counting watch for Christmas in 2017 and I have so far walked 970 miles this year. I set myself a target of walking 870 miles, the distance from Land’s End to John o’ Groats, and I was pleased to manage that, but now I want to make it to 1,000 miles by Christmas. I think I will do it."

An app attached to Jim's watch shows he's on track to walk 1,000 miles during 2018.

As well as regularly walking at the Hopetoun, Dalmeny and Dundas estates near Queensferry, his involvement with the Ramblers has taken him walking in other parts of Scotland, including St Andrews in Fife, Callander in the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs NP and Blair Atholl in the Cairngorms NP. He even now volunteers as a walk leader with the South Queensferry group; helping fellow Ramblers enjoy some of his favourite local routes. 

Jim added: "I’ve always been shy and quiet before finding the Ramblers. I’m so chatty now, and love going away on trips with them. I’m truly a different person. In fact, when I’ve met people I haven’t seen in a few years and they keep asking what’s got in to me!"

Due to his hearing loss Jim can sometimes feel a bit vulnerable, especially when on tracks shared by bikes and cars – but he feels that his fellow Ramblers go out of their way to keep him safe. 

Jim says: "In our group we really look out for each other. It’s that sociable side of walking with the Ramblers that I love the most. 

"I’d been going to the gym for years since I retired, but you’re obviously on your own there and I think the GP recognised that it would be great to join the Ramblers to get company, as well as fitness."

Jim says walking has transformed his health.

After an unfortunate collision with an out-of-control cyclist in 2017, Jim’s daughter made him a reflective ‘Warning: hard of hearing’ sign for the back of his rucksack. He even has a version in German for use during one of his three recent summer walking holidays in Austria.

Moira Stewart, chair of South Queensferry Ramblers, said: "It’s been lovely to have Jim walking with us. We’re a relatively small Ramblers group, but very sociable and we get good numbers out on our walks – and have many members over 80 who are still strong walkers. 

"I’d urge anyone who wants to get a bit more active, or to meet new people, to get in touch with their local Ramblers group and give it a go, just like Jim did."

To find your local Ramblers group, click here