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There are many health benefits of walking. And walking with others adds fun and friendship along the way. Have you thought about joining a group for a different experience?
Marija Basic has always enjoyed her solo walks with the dog.
Less than a year ago, she decided to try walking with others by joining the Logan and Beaudesert Bushwalkers.
The regular group walks ranging anywhere from six to 85 kilometres literally transformed her.
“Physically, it helped me. I’ve became more fit. I’ve lost about 25 kilos. It gives you a power to push yourself to do more physically because environment you are in and people around are really supportive.”
Her experience echos the research findings from the University of East Anglia on walking group participants.
According to the study, joining a walking group improves one’s general wellbeing.
Benefits include lower blood pressure, resting heartbeat, less body fat and better mental health.
And in Marija Basic’s case, she’s certainly found more peace.
“It helps me on a mental level because my job is quite stressful so I needed something to balance it with so getting out in the bush, away from the city, away from everything else just sort of made me balance my life better.”
Initially unsure of how she’d cope with the social nature of walking alongside others, but after joining her club, she discovered that wasn’t a problem after all.
“In the group that I walk in, you just build a space around you and if you want to talk you can, if you don’t want to talk, nobody’s going to judge you for it.”
On the other hand, research by pedestrian advocacy body Victoria Walks found that only four per cent of walkers actually join an organised group.
Its president Dr Ben Rossiter says most people join groups for the social aspect.
“Most of the walking is done informally either individually or with friends, with families or even just purposeful walking like go to shops or to services, to public transports, that’s where most of our walking happen. But recreational walking, if people can join a walking group, it can be good. It’s about trying to find out what works for people themselves. Everyone might have different interests.”
Dr Rossiter encourages walking in any length or form to enable stronger ties.
“In outdoors, in nature, but also in cities, it can offer us a great deal about how we connect with our communities and people and the general world."
National guidelines recommend those aged 65 plus aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise like walking every day.
But a recent report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows that only two in five older people are sufficiently active.
Getting older patients to get more active has been on the agenda of the Australian Chiropractors Association.
The association’s president Dr Anthony Coxon says it even has an app called Just Start Walking
to promote better spinal health by encouraging people to set goals, map and share their walks.
“People have the expectation that as they get older, they should be slowing down, and in many cases, this is not necessary. Being active is really important to maintaining good health right through into your older years. Activity or exercise is much more likely to be continued if it’s also fun and social. Sometimes doing things on your own can be a little bit lonely but doing it with a group adds so much more to the experience.”
But before signing up to a group, Dr Coxon warns that even an exercise as gentle as walking can still be potentially hazardous and thus it’s crucial that you know your limits.
“If you are trying to go too hard, too early, so if you are new to walking or new to exercise, be prepared to start gently and build slowly and this is where conversation with a chiropractor or a similar type of health practitioner can be very helpful in terms of planning out your walking so that you are not also doing yourself harm by your exercise.”
Basic suggests interested walkers should do their homework to find a walk that best matches their physical level.
“Depends what people are looking for, I suggest look at the walks, look at the club website. On most websites or Facebook pages, there are descriptions of the walks and the pictures and then people see what it looks like and what the walk look like.”
A common reason people don’t get moving is due to concerns of a fall.
Apart from talking to your GP or health professional, Dr Ben Rossiter recommends that you improve your walking environment by taking matters into your own hands.
“Often people if they’re concerned about walking issues, just report them to the authorities. Often they don’t know about them and they’ll often be very quick to fix things particularly overhanging vegetation, rubbish, those sorts of things which can make it more difficult to walk.”
Marija Basic still walks alone with her dog.
Meanwhile, walking with others has become exciting adventures she looks forward to every week.
“It’s peaceful. It’s adventure. You go somewhere you’ve never been before and it’s not scary to go because you’re not by yourself. Your mind wonders and you look at things and you look at flowers and you look at the trees. It’s really healing.”
Please consult your health practitioner before you undertake any exercise.