Mental Health Awareness Week 2021
Interview with Health Walk Coordinator Brain Harrison
Over the past 12-months, many people have re-discovered the joy of walking for walking’s sake. Not to get to the bus stop, or to go to the shop, but just going out for a walk and getting active.
Walk Aberdeen, part of award-winning charity Sport Aberdeen, organises health walks across the city. Health walks are social walking groups which give people an opportunity to walk with others, have a chat and to become part of a group or community. With one in three homes in Aberdeen occupied by a single adult over 65 (2010 census) it provides a great opportunity to get out, have a bit of structure in your week and keep active in a safe and welcoming environment.
The saying is true, “If you don’t use it, you will lose it!”
Tell us a bit about your work
I have spent over 35 years working in the voluntary sector, firstly with the British Red Cross in a range of roles and with Bethany Christian trust, setting up a befriending scheme. For the past six and a half years I have been employed by Sport Aberdeen as their Health Walk Coordinator, coordinating the social walking groups.
Sport Aberdeen is an award-winning registered charity committed to creating opportunities, inspiring people and changing lives through sport and physical activity in the north-east. The charity manages leisure venues and sport and activity programmes on behalf of Aberdeen City Council.
I am part of the Healthy Communities Team, delivering inclusive activity opportunities for those just starting out, older adults and people living with a long-term health condition. As well as the social walking groups we offer sports, dance, aquatics and fitness opportunities at a range of ‘effort’ levels so there’s something people of all ages and abilities.
As Health Walk Coordinator, my job is to coordinate around 13 weekly walking groups across the city, led by a group of around 30 volunteer walk leaders. My role involves all sorts of volunteer management, from recruitment and induction to ongoing support and celebrating the work of our volunteers. As a ‘Paths for All Trainer’ I am also able to deliver a range of training for our volunteers. In my role I collaborate with professionals from a range of organisations across the city to help them develop social walking opportunities within their own settings and for their service users.
How did you get involved with Health Walks in Aberdeen?
I saw the post advertised by Sport Aberdeen and when I looked into it, I knew it was something I could be involved in and could use my experience to create more opportunities for others to lead healthy lifestyles. I like being in the outdoors having done a fair bit of hill walking over the years, and I knew I could bring my volunteer management knowledge to the role.
What are the benefits for people who take part in organised health walks and in what ways can they help with mental health and wellbeing?
Over 2,000 years ago Hippocrates said, “Walking is man’s best medicine” and during my time with Sport Aberdeen I have found this to be very true.
A brisk 30-minute walk, five days of the week can help us meet the recommended physical activity guidelines and the best thing about walking is that it’s completely free. Walking can help prevent a range of health conditions including heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, some cancers and Alzheimer’s. It’s also proven to have a hugely positive effect on mental health too; it can improve mood and self-esteem and reduce anxiety and depression, especially if we can walk in green spaces of which Aberdeen has many!
I work closely with Paths for All, Scotland’s national walking charity, which promotes everyday walking as the key to improving the health and wellbeing of people in Scotland.
Sport Aberdeen volunteers helped with a research project led by Aberdeen University for people with arthritis. Those who attended organised walks three times per week and walked an additional twice a week on their own, ALL reported using less pain medicine, felt less pain and were more mobile.
What kind of response have you had from people who take part in the walks?
We’ve seen a number of people who have joined a walking group after a change in their health. One individual joined a walk as a way of starting to exercise following a heart attack and in time her fitness grew, she then went on to attend two fitness classes per week.
Another walker from our programme experienced a stroke which affected their walking. They joined one of our ‘First Steps’ sessions, which combines strength and balance exercises with short walks and thanks to hard work and determination they are now walking with more confidence and living life their way!
You also offer training for people interested in leading health walks, what was the inspiration behind setting this up and what are your hopes for training going forward/what would like to see happen as a result?
Paths for All offer a range of training from core ‘Walk Leader Training’ to more bespoke workshops that help our walk leaders offer dementia friendly walks or introduce strength and balance exercises as part of the programme. As a local trainer, I’m pleased to be able to organise courses in partnership with Paths for All for volunteers and organisations within Aberdeen and I hope this in turn increases the number of social walking opportunities within the city, allowing more people to get active and improve their mental and physical wellbeing
Training courses are delivered locally, and in some cases virtually and anyone who is interested can get in touch with me to find out more.