Last year, we funded a research project to understand older people’s experiences of walking in winter. This was a collaborative project with Durham University’s Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences. Postgraduate researcher, Miles Lowson, went on walking interviews with people aged between 62 and 90 in East Durham. Miles also spoke to walk leaders and there were two creative workshops where older people discussed and mapped out their walking experiences.
It can be challenging to stay active in winter. The mornings and evenings are darker. The cold, snow, ice and wind can all make staying indoors seem like a better idea (1). But we know that it’s important for both our physical and mental health to keep moving all year round – especially for older people since we tend to be less active overall as we age (2). It’s never too late to benefit from moving more.
Based on our conversations with older people and walk leaders, we have created a booklet full of tips for anyone helping older people stay active this winter. Over the next few weeks, Miles will be sharing these top tips with walk leaders, walk providers, and community groups. We are also offering free Live Longer Better training! This training could help you challenge your understanding of older age and think more positively about getting older. Contact Amy.firstname.lastname@example.org to access the free training.
“Last year, when I was talking to people what was really apparent was how much people enjoyed walking in winter! Places can look completely different in winter, for example, fewer leaves on the trees meant a better view of the fantastic County Durham wildlife and scenery. Also walking can be easier due to paths being less overgrown and the cooler weather can make it more comfortable to walk. I truly believe that with some adaption we can make the most of winter as there are great views to see and lovely weather to experience. I am really looking forward to spreading this message across County Durham this winter and hope it will help people to be active this winter.”
Quote from researcher, Miles Lowson
Here are our top 5 tips for walk leaders:
1. Assess the weather and adapt
There is plenty of good walking weather in winter! Don’t shy away from certain routes and areas just because it is winter. Keep an eye on weather forecasts and asses the weather on the day. Change plans and take appropriate safety measures, if needed.
2. Have a set of walking poles that people can borrow
Walking poles help people walk safely in winter and on various terrains. Providing these for free helps those who can’t afford them take part.
3. Teach people how to navigate
Being unable to navigate can be a safety concern and prevent older adults from getting active. Teaching people how to walk without a walk leader can help people stay active independently. Point out any signage, landmarks, or way markers that could help people feel more confident finding their way. Let walkers know which routes are good to do in different weather.
4. Give a warm welcome
Have more walk leaders, or even a “buddy” so that when new people join the group, they feel welcome and have someone to walk with.
5. Don’t just walk for walking’s sake
Changing how walking is advertised can mean more people want to walk. Advertise walks that show people what is in their local area or as an opportunity to learn about local history.
The research project was supervised by Professor Cassandra Phoenix, Durham University, Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences.
- We Are Undefeatable, 2021 https://www.thesun.co.uk/health/16731541/millions-of-adults-dreading-winter/
- Sport England Active Lives Survey, Nov 2020/21