Steps to a healthier lifestyle

PUBLISHED: 12:44 27 April 2006 | UPDATED: 10:03 06 May 2010

Walk to health

Walk to health

MORE than 20 people built up an appetite for lunch by striding out from the heart of Hitchin into the open countryside. In just a few minutes they had left the busy A505 behind them and were within striking distance of Oughtenhead Common with its kingfish

MORE than 20 people built up an appetite for lunch by striding out from the heart of Hitchin into the open countryside.

In just a few minutes they had left the busy A505 behind them and were within striking distance of Oughtenhead Common with its kingfishers, warblers and wildlife.

They had also notched up a good many brownie points as regards fitness and brought a big smile to the face of the organisers who were officially launching a new Hitchin Health Walks programme.

The walks, which already run in Letchworth GC, are designed to get people taking gentle exercise to tap into benefits including reducing weight and helping with diabetes, oesteoporosis and mild depression.

Pieter Shipster, assistant director of public health at the North Herts and Stevenage Primary Care Trust, urged members of the public to join the free walks.

"We are becoming a less physically active society and it's having a serious effect on our health," he told the VIPs and guests who had come along for the launch at Hitchin Town Football Club.

"Regular walking can improve stamina, confidence and energy levels, help those who have difficulty with balance and reduce anxiety and mild depression."

The walks are the result of a partnership bwtween the PCT, North Hertfordshire District Council and the Countryside Management Service. There are 14 volunteer leaders already and more are being trained.

They include David Cannon from Hitchin who said: "The idea is that people walk at their own pace rather than in a group but walk fast enough to get their heart going a bit. Some people would be quite a bit faster than others and each walk should have at least two leaders, one in front to match the pace of the fastest walker and one at the back so no one gets left behind."

Most of the circular walks last from 30 minutes to an hour and don't require special clothing, just sturdy shoes. There is no need to book and they start and finish at a pub or garden centre with a café, so people taking part can stop afterwards for a drink or lunch if they want.

"They are very social, that's one of the benefits," said David.

Some people who come along are referred by their GPs, others like the idea of getting out in a group. Regular walker June Cox, who doesn't feel secure in the countryside without company, said: "They open up a lot of avenues for a woman on her own."

Fellow walker John Simmonds finds joining an organised programme is an incentive, especially in poor weather.

"They get you out of your chair - you don't always make the effort on your own," he said.

"It's certainly better than sitting indoors."

If walking is good for everyone it is even better for patients with problems.

Community diabetes nurse specialist Mary Hayes said: "People with diabetes can really benefit from the exercise as much as from their tablets. It makes quite a difference to blood glucose and weight. And if people are more active, walking can help to prevent diabetes."

It is also a weapon in the fight against obesity as Darshini Sharma knows. She works for pharmaceutical company Abbott Healthcare, which is carrying out a pilot scheme in six local GPs' surgeries to help people lose weight.

Walks are organised in the morning, at lunchtime, during the afternoon and from 7pm with popular starting points at the Three Moorhens pub in Hitchin, The Fox, Willian, Westmill Community Centre, Hitchin, and the Plume of Feathers in Little Wymondley.

Some, aimed at starters, are just 20 minutes long.

For more details and a programme call the Countryside Management Service on 01462 459395.

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