The physical and mental health benefits of walking were celebrated in Newtonmore earlier this week as volunteer walk leaders and participants gathered to exchange stories and toast the success of the Health Walks project in the Cairngorms National Park. Included as part of the celebrations was the launch of the Cairngorms Outdoor Access Trust’s (COAT) ‘Health Walks Evaluation Report 2011-2013’.
The Highland Folk Museum was the venue for this event with participants coming from towns and villages across Badenoch and Strathspey such as Grantown-on -Spey, Nethy Bridge, Boat of Garten, Carrbridge, Aviemore and Kingussie; all there to celebrate the success of the Health Walks Project over the last two years culminating in a Health Walks Evaluation Report compiled by COAT’s Health Walks Co-ordinator Alan Melrose.
The candid report covers a combination of Case Studies, Focus Groups and Personal Testimony on how the Project has made a difference to people’s health as a result of participation in the Project. Funding assistance from Cairngorm LEADER, Aberdeenshire LEADER, Aberdeenshire Change Fund, SNH and Paths for All helped to establish and support Health Walks during the last two years in over 30 communities across the Cairngorms National Park and parts of Aberdeenshire.
Bob Grant, Recreation & Access Programme Manager at the CNPA said: “The Cairngorms Walking to Health Project is doing amazing work in the Park’s communities and it wouldn’t be possible without the army of volunteers who have given up their time to plan, encourage and lead the walks that have become such an important part of so many lives. We welcome the report published today and it clearly demonstrates that this project is having a really positive impact on peoples’ lives”.
The walks have been established to encourage an improvement in health for people either with a specific health condition such as Alzheimer’s or diabetes or for generic groups where people can improve their fitness through walking and often with the added social benefit. Alan Melrose, COAT’s Health Walk Co-ordinator said “Whilst delivering significant health improvement the Project has also had an impact in local communities by supporting volunteer development, reducing social isolation and developing better local access in communities”.
The mainstay of any health walk has been the invaluable help from the Walk Volunteer Leaders as the Evaluation Report highlights over 88 volunteers have been trained and have lead 1377 Health Walks between 2011 and 2013 culminating in over 5000 volunteer hours. As a result of the weekly walks the Health Walk participants have noticed real changes in their Health and Fitness.