The Walking for Health programme aims to get people on their feet, as increasing sedentary lifestyles place a heavy toll on human and societal wellbeing. A recent evaluation of the programme by Ecorys finds that it is generally effective in keeping people active as well as improving mental wellbeing by dint of increased social interactions.
A recent study published in Lancet found that up to an hour of exercise, per day, is required to offset the effects of a sedentary lifestyle. Sitting for long periods of time is, in a certain sense, unnatural – and is implicated in a range of disorders. Add to this a continuing health crisis in the UK around weight, with almost a quarter of the population categorised as obese. As a result, the risk of serious disease (diabetes, cancer, heart disease, etc), a reduction of quality of life and long term costs for the healthcare system are on the rise.
In a bid to support activity among adults in England, the Ramblers, the UK’s largest walking charity, and Macmillan Cancer Support, a charity focused on improving and aiding cancer care, launched the Walking for Health programme.
The programme provides for 1,800 walks per week across England, across 400 active schemes. The walks are designed for relative ease, covering easy terrain and short distances. Around 8,300 volunteers have been trained to support the different walks, with in total around 20,000 walkers taking part in the programme per week.
The programme has been running for more than 14 years. In a bid to better understand the effectiveness of the programme, Ramblers and Macmillan Cancer Support hired Ecorys and the University of East Anglia (UEA) to evaluate the programme. The study involved a longitudinal telephone survey of new walkers, as well as a follow up four and eight months later; a range of case studies of local programmes; in-depth interviews with key stakeholders; and a ‘cost-benefit’ analysis to quantify the overall returns of the programme.
The results found that overall the programme is relatively effective in encouraging people to sustain their physical activity, particularly as they age – even if, in general, no substantial long term increase in physical activity was observed among participants. Participants themselves tended to be older, female, inactive and with underlying health issues. The programme was not strong at attracting minority ethnic groups and those from areas of deprivation. The programme had a number of additional benefits including improvements to wellbeing, improvements to general mental health, a reduction in loneliness, and increases in social interaction. The programme was found to be cost effective according to the MOVE model developed by the UEA.
According to a spoke’s person for Ecorys, “Findings on the delivery of local schemes also provided the national programme team with useful learning on what they can do to increase the programme’s reach to particular target groups, to provide more effective support to local schemes and volunteers, and to develop awareness of the programme among key national stakeholders.”