Walking transformed my wellbeing

'Walking is man’s best medicine’, declared Greek philosopher Hippocrates around 2,400 years ago – and we’d have to agree! The impact on physical and mental health can be transformational, as these three members’ inspirational stories reveal.


Anthony’s story

In my early years I walked in the Clwydian Range, because a relative lived nearby. Later, I would walk in Eryri (Snowdonia) with friends. As lads in our twenties, we scaled Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon), Crib Goch, Cnicht and Tryfan.

In 1984 I moved to Manchester for work. As the years passed, I rarely ventured onto the Clwydians, and Eryri was a distant memory. By 1997, I’d settled down to marriage and a family.

One Saturday in May 2015, I thought I had a bout of painful indigestion as I started a work night shift. By midnight, the pain in my stomach was too much. My neck hurt. I was sick. The knot in my stomach grew tighter.

At 5.30am, I drove to hospital, where I collapsed. It was Sunday and the cardiac unit was closed for the bank holiday. The duty doctor examined me and transferred me to Broadgreen Hospital in Liverpool. I owe every hill I climb now to him.

I was numb with fear, thinking I would die. The amazing medics dissolved the blood clot that had caused my heart attack and sent me home after three days. The aftercare from the cardiac team was brilliant and I completed a rehab programme at the local gym.

Walking was hard. I had to start again, going slowly, lamppost to lamppost. Moel Famau and the Clwydian Range may as well have been the Himalayas!

anthony quote

In 2016, a scan detected a stage-2 cancerous tumour in the left lobe of my thyroid gland which was removed. In 2017, the right part of my thyroid was removed and I had a deep vein thrombosis (DVT), eventually identified as polycythemia – a form of blood cancer.

The return to work was difficult. Then came Covid-19, lockdown and having to shield. When I was eventually allowed out, I started walking in local fields and, little by little, scaled the Clwydian Range again. Standing on Moel Famau, I saw the peaks of Eryri backlit by the sun and resolved to climb a mountain.

My first attempt found me on a dank November day, disorientated in mist on Arenig Fawr. Fighting panic, I extricated myself to the nearest bothy. I had the riot act read by my wife, who insisted any further walks in wilderness were to be accompanied.

A walker on high peak mountain looking into the camera.

Making the leap

So I joined the Ramblers. I had no idea of what the organisation did, but it was a start. Perusing the groups, I discovered walks for different abilities – including up mountains. I decided to go to one on the Llŷn Peninsula with Eryri Ramblers. I was nervous, but I shouldn’t have been – I was made so welcome. I had a brilliant day and came back buzzing.

The next walk was Moel Siabod. I volunteered as back-marker – a position for which I am eminently qualified, being by far the slowest. This was a real mountain. It was tough, but I did it. I was back! Standing on Siabod, I saw lots more to climb…

The Eryri Ramblers walks came thick and fast – with Roy on the Rhinogydd and Richard on the Glyderau. I’d always wanted to return to Tryfan and the Cantilever Stone and, led by Richard, I did.

In 2023, I summited 47 Eryri peaks. My next goal is Yr Wyddfa’s South Ridge. I’ve volunteered to lead some hill-walks and signed up for a mountain leaders’ course and first-aid training. I want to give something back.

Joining the Ramblers is the best thing I could have done to help me cope with my illness. It’s been hard, but fabulous to be out in all weathers. The views are stupendous. But the best bit is the company – friends made and stories shared on the walks.

These days, I venture out with the Ramblers, walking and climbing the hills as much as I can. Walking has given me so much enjoyment, and a massive boost to my mental and physical health. It’s the finest exercise you can do.


Dee’s story

I’m only 5ft [1.5m] tall, and I weighed almost 17 stone [106kg]. It was a lot of pressure on my body. Taking the kids to school, just walking 100m from the car was hard. I couldn’t stand for long when cooking dinner.

In 2019, I was on a plane from Cyprus. Another passenger told the steward he didn’t want to sit next to such a fat person because I was ‘overflowing’ onto his seat. It was so embarrassing. I felt heartbroken and cried all the way home. I knew I needed to lose weight, but I didn’t know how.

dee quote

I realised I couldn’t have a healthy lifestyle without exercise and eating well – but I wasn’t sure I had the strength to do both. I said to myself, ‘get under 100kg, then start exercising.’ I dropped the weight in six weeks.

Being that big and going to the gym, I would have got looks. Walking was the only option for me. So I got a fitness watch and started counting my steps. I read that if you’re a complete beginner, you should exercise three times a week, so I did 1,000 steps every other day. I knew a good fitness goal was 10,000 steps a day. It took me five months to manage that.

I was following Active Fenland on social media and I saw a post about a Ramblers Wellbeing Walk. It seemed a great idea – like a social club, but you’re walking as well. Then I saw they were looking for walk leaders and I thought: ‘Fantastic, this is my opportunity.’ I felt nervous about putting myself forward, but also worried that no one else would volunteer. Eventually, I decided: ‘I want to join a walking group; I might as well make my own!’


Leading the way

I didn’t know any walking routes, but Wisbech has a few landmarks and a lovely river, so I created a walk around those. Hettie from Active Fenland helped with the risk assessment and planning – I felt really supported. We started advertising, and it’s grown from there.

Now 20 to 25 people come each week to our Friday walks. Everyone’s so friendly – I couldn’t ask for a better group.

It’s about socialising and mental health as much as exercise. Some people have moved to Wisbech and don’t know anybody. One lady has social anxiety and never thought she could be part of such a big group – it took her three sessions just to get out of her car, but now she loves it. Another is a carer and doesn’t see many people, so she joined, and met a friend she now sees regularly.

My passion is getting people active. Walking will always hold a special place in my heart, and I want to give that to others.

If I’d carried on as I was, I probably wouldn’t be able to care for myself or my children. Today, I’m 8 stone [50kg] lighter. Walking has given me back the confidence I once had, and opened new avenues for me. In 2021, someone inspired me to do the NHS’s Couch to 5k programme. I joined Fenland Running Club and in 2022, I completed my first half marathon.

I think walking is underestimated. It’s free, you don’t need any equipment and you don’t need to be fit. You see wildlife, you meet other people, and being outdoors in the fresh air boosts mental health. If I hadn’t walked, I wouldn’t have been able to run.


Cat’s story

On and off since my early teens, I’ve experienced mental health problems. I turned to food and exercise as a way to control the depression and emptiness I felt. I was diagnosed with an eating disorder, which led to a nine-month hospital stay in my twenties.

I needed to find healthier coping strategies, and walking was one. Whether it’s depression, anxiety or stress, getting outdoors can make a world of difference.

Six years ago, I moved to Edinburgh. I was keen to find a walking group as a way to meet people, share experiences and get out more. A colleague told me about Edinburgh Young Walkers (EYW), and they were so welcoming.


EYW is suited to all abilities, from low-level walks to Munro bagging [summitting Scottish mountains over 914m/3,000ft]. It’s a great way to build confidence, make friends and see some of Scotland’s most beautiful sights.

In May 2018, I walked the Cowal Way – my first time solo wild camping. I felt empowered and proud. Having the confidence to do that, and enjoying your own company and independence, is a sure way to grow as a person.

After years of abusing my body, I’m learning now to appreciate and praise it. I thank it for enabling me to hike up Munros or go trail running with my partner, Dave. My legs can take me places, but only if I treat my body right. Someone told me: ‘Don’t aim to be skinny – aim to be strong.’ I think about that a lot. To be strong enough to do the things I love, I need to eat.

When I look at photos, I no longer feel the same hatred of my body. I think I look strong. If I were lighter, my legs wouldn’t carry me through the Lakes or over Munros. I still have to be careful – exercise was a harmful addiction for me. But knowing I need energy to do what I enjoy helps ensure I eat right.

walker at the top of a mountain smiling into the camera

A different viewpoint

A couple of years after leaving hospital, I celebrated my 29th birthday by walking the West Highland Way. If you’d told me back then that I’d have voluntarily fuelled myself with foods I used to find scary and avoided for years – like bread and cheese – I wouldn’t have thought it possible!

My eating disorder likely stemmed from feeling a lack of control. Walking helps me realise not everything can be controlled. The weather may turn; maybe I won’t reach the peak. Not getting what you planned or wanted can be a good thing. You might try again another day, and maybe the views will be more beautiful.

Eating disorders are severe illnesses that affect millions of people, and they claim more lives than any other mental health condition. I’ll probably always be in a state of recovery, but getting outdoors helps lift my mood on my darkest days.

Mental health is such an important topic, and one that should be spoken about more. So feel free to ask me anything if you meet me on the trail!

If you’re affected by an eating disorder, the charity Beat offers information and support: beateatingdisorders.org.uk

Louisa Adjoa Parker looking into the camera

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Lifelong walker Louisa was devastated when a chronic fatigue condition took away her connection to nature. She writes movingly about reconnecting with the natural world and learning to live with her illness.

dianne maclean bio

My walk of life – Dianne Maclean Whiting

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Zahrah at the top of a hill with a mountain range in the background

My walk of life

Known on social media as The Hillwalking Hijabi, Zahrah is an accountant, mum and the new president of Ramblers Scotland