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Natural England – Walking for Health


Natural England – Walking for Health

Walking for Health is an England-wide program that encourages people to get active by walking in their local communities.

Walking for Health (WfH) encourages people to take regular short health walks in their local communities, particularly sedentary people and those in relatively poor health. WfH supports a network of local health walk schemes across England, offering support and advice, training for walk leaders, public liability insurance, an accreditation quality mark, evaluation and free materials to help promote walking.

The programme is supported by Natural England through its Natural Health Service campaign, which aims to ensure that everyone in the country has good access to green space and that the country’s health services make better use of it.

The concept of health walks was started by Oxfordshire GP, Dr William Bird, for his patients in April 1995. (Dr Bird is currently the Strategic Health Advisor for Natural England developing the Natural Health Service, and was a keynote speaker at the 2010 International Healthy Parks Healthy People Congress.)

Launched in partnership with the British Heart Foundation in 2000, Walking for Health (previously known as the Walking the Way to Health Initiative) has become the largest national body promoting and setting the standards for led health walks.

WfH has trained more than 48,000 walk leaders and supports:
– more than 600 led health walk schemes
– more than 62,000 regular walkers.

WfH’s health walk schemes offer walks from beginner level with risk-assessed routes and trained walk leaders. Health walks are free of charge and Walking for Health offers free training for walk leaders and an accreditation quality mark. The scheme has over 10,000 active walk leaders across England, including a leader aged in his nineties!

  • Copyright: Natural England, photographer: Paul Glendell.
    Mary Potter Health Walk Nottingham
  • Copyright: Natural England, photographer: Paul Glendell.
    Mary Potter Health Walk Nottingham

Why walking?
According to WfH, walking is described by health experts as ‘almost perfect exercise’. It requires no equipment or expense and is the ideal way for most people to become more active.

The short definition of a health walk is ‘a purposeful, brisk walk undertaken on a regular basis’. It can include any walk which is specifically designed and carried out for the purpose of improving an individual’s health. It is the relative intensity of the walk for the individual and the regularity of participation that can really have an impact on heart health.

Organised walks can have a health impact on individuals by providing an opportunity to socialise (good social networks enhance health) and a distraction from everyday stresses (stress contributes to poor health).
Natural England has formed a partnership with the Department of Health to expand the number of accredited walks so that every GP surgery has the option to refer patients to a local Walking for Health group.

Other initiatives
A number of other health initiatives have been led by Natural England:

The National Step-O-Meter Programme (NSP)
The NSP was a ‘Choosing Health’ project, and aimed to promote and enable the effective use of pedometers via clinical practice.

NSP aimed to make it possible for National Health Service patients – especially those who take little exercise – to have the use of a Step-O-Meter (pedometer) free of charge for a limited loan period. Help and support was given to set goals, monitor the number of steps walked, record progress and increase activity levels.

NSP enabled Step-O-Meters to be made available to patients through health care professionals, eg GPs, practice nurses and health visitors.

The Physical Activity Care Pathway
Through Natural England, the Department of Health is working with WfH in developing a Physical Activity Care Pathway pilot. The ‘pathway’ is a means by which frontline health professionals can identify sedentary patients who would benefit – in terms of physical health – from increased levels of physical activity.

This pathway has been designed to help facilitate the promotion of physical activity across primary care. The pathway is a tool for GPs and other professionals to use with patients who would benefit from a more active lifestyle and should result in signposting to local health walks and green exercise schemes in addition to opportunities for local indoor activities.


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