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Walking Friends Wales: building confidence, one step at a time

Walking can have a positive impact on our lives, whatever our age, and it can benefit us mentally, physically and socially.

Walking Friends Wales was a four-year project, funded by the Healthy & Active Fund, a partnership between Welsh Government, Sport Wales and Public Health Wales. It helped people over 50 build up the confidence and strength to start walking, make new connections and voice the need for changes to their local walking environment.

Walking for just 20 minutes a day has been shown to reduce the risk of a number of preventable health conditions, including certain cancers, depression, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. And walking together can also help us feel happier and healthier, with active people who walk with friends or family reporting higher levels of mental wellbeing. Sadly, many older adults in Wales are physically inactive, or at risk of becoming so, which increases social isolation, reduces independence and diminishes physical health and fitness.

Walking Friends Wales ran weekly local walks with small groups to introduce people to others living in their area and experience the many benefits associated with regular movement and exercise.

The project included led walks, walk leader training and Community Street Audits where we work with communities to hear what works well for walking and what could be improved. They’re a great way for people to voice the need for changes to their local walking environment, like a new pedestrian crossing that will help them get around more safely.

Our participants hugely benefitted from Walking Friends Wales. Valbai, who lives in Cardiff, had recently moved to the UK and found that the weekly walks helped her meet new people and feel more connected to the community. They also gave her an opportunity to practise her English. Valbai now feels more confident going out and about in Cardiff and travelling to different places in the city.

Rob from Cardiff was initially unsure about getting in touch but immediately enjoyed taking part in the regular walks and spending time with the rest of the group.

“My daughter says it’s the best phone call I’ve made… It'sgetting me fitter. I'm enjoying the company on the walks, which is good for me because it takes me out of my shell [and] I look forward to the walks.”

“Walking Friends Wales has helped my mental health and wellbeing so much and helped me re-discover my long-lost love of walking.

“It has provided me with the chance to meet lovely new local people and discover the local natural environment and open spaces which are freely available to us all. 

“I genuinely have started to feel fitter and happier since joining the group and feel proud to be challenging myself, even well into my 60s.

“The walks have taught me that even when you live in the city you do not need to jump in a car to find our wonderful natural environment, you just need a comfortable pair of shoes and some good company.” Anonymous

“I have made friends and have really appreciated the routes chosen for our walks – green spaces in the city alongside the river and the canal, where we hear nothing but bird song and can appreciate the beauty of the greenery.  I feel as if it’s a breathing space in my week.” Anonymous

“All of our group are keen to continue our walks and develop our friendships and it has been a hugely positive experience.” Mike

“It's been surprising how much I've enjoyed these walks, especially since I've never been a walker. Maybe when the children were little, I walked a bit with them. But certainly, for the last 20 years, it's always been jump in the car and go somewhere. Me and my husband would never have thought about going for a walk. I've really enjoyed these walks…. I enjoy the exercise and the company… it's such a lovely group of people”.  Carrol

“My disability limits my mobility. Because I'm limited in what I can do it's lovely for me to be able to go out with others. These walks are gentle and accessible enough for me to join. Disability can be very isolating… These walks have made a big difference to my week”. Anonymous

“This has been a very positive experience for me and has definitely helped me to have a more realistic view of my capabilities, in a good positive way. I will definitely continue with my walking journey and keep a diary so that I can see my progress. 

“You helped encourage me and helped me find my motivation. I don’t think I would be doing this if it hadn’t been for you.” Lisa   

“The walks are fun. Different every time. It’s so nice to have company. Just to come out in the fresh air and feel part of everyday living.” Mary

"Walking with the group... made me feel so much happier and healthier. My stamina is much better, and I can walk more than I did. I’m also noticing more things as I walk than I used to, because we talk about the things we see on our walks; I’m more aware of the trees and beautiful flowers rather than just walking from A to B. Walking's not a chore; it’s a joy! I feel happier now as well, being part of the group.” Sheila