This time last year Karen Hallwood felt at her lowest ebb – but that’s all in the past now thanks to the power of walking, which has more than put a spring back in her step, writes Victoria Tagg.
The 58-year-old, from Liden, hopes more people will discover the benefits of walking and encourages everyone to get involved in Swindon’s Walking Festival, which kicks off with a free celebratory walk at Coate Water this Saturday, 2nd May at 11am.
Karen said: “Walking really has worked wonders for me and I’m sure it can for so many others too. If someone had said how much better it would make me feel a year ago, I would have laughed. But I gave it a try and am thrilled with the results.”
Determined to help others join in, Karen has taken her new-found passion one step further and now runs her own weekly walking group, which sets off from the Swindon Advice and Support Centre, in Sanford Street, on Tuesdays at 1pm.
“I’ve made so many friends from walking and organising another group for anyone who wants to get involved was the next logical step and my way of giving something back. More people are turning up, we’re getting good exercise and having a great time to boot – it’s brilliant,” she said.
Karen was suffering from stress and depression when she spotted a leaflet about free local walking groups in the library last May. There was one which met just round the corner from where she lives, so Karen went along.
“I was in a very low place, but knew I had to do something about it and that getting out and about socially would help. Everyone on the walk was very welcoming, without making me feel self-conscious or pressured,” she said.
“I was quiet at first but over the weeks came out of my shell. People say I’m like a different person now and it’s true – I’m back to my old self and feel on top of the world. Walking sounds so simple, but it does something special. You’re out in the fresh air, discovering new places, meeting new people, having a laugh and getting a workout into the bargain. My physical and mental wellbeing has been totally transformed.”
Glen Inchley, aged 52, from West Swindon, is equally enthusiastic and a fan of the weekly walk, which meets at the Pinetrees Community Centre, in Pinehurst, on Fridays at 10am.
“I found out about it from my brother who was doing the Dietbusters programme. We thought it would be a good way to keep the regular exercise going and it’s a proving to be a really enjoyable experience,” he said.
“You get to see lots of beautiful scenery, it boosts your mood and can help with weight loss. I feel much healthier and more energised for it, so would highly recommend people to give it a go.”
There are nearly 20 different health walking groups across the Borough, as part of the Walking for Health scheme, which are suitable for all ages and abilities. It’s completely free to take part and after each walk people chat over refreshments.
Walking is one of the easiest ways to get fitter and become more active, as it can be built into everyday life and does not require special equipment apart from a pair of comfortable shoes. To get the best health benefits from walking you need to raise your heart rate and breathe a bit faster, so for most people that means a brisk walk rather than a stroll.
For more information about the festival and programme of free events go to www.swindon.gov.uk/walking