Cold, rain, snow, dark mornings and evenings mean many of us are less active during winter. Activity levels also decrease as we get older. Nationally, 42% of people aged over 75 are classified as inactive, compared to just 25% of those aged 35-54 years (Sport England 2019/20).
County Durham Sport are collaborating with Durham University to better understand how winter weather might affect older people’s experiences of getting active. Miles Lowson has been going on walking interviews with people aged 65+ on the East Durham Coast. Through this project, we hope to amplify the experiences of older people, advocate for active environments which are safe and accessible for winter walking, and promote winter physical activity in ways which will resonate with local people. With winter now coming to an end, I asked Miles about his experiences of this innovative, and active research project so far.
What’s the most enjoyable or rewarding part of your project?
“Being able to talk and listen to the residents of County Durham whilst going on some great walks and seeing some fantastic views, especially of the sea…Going on some walks with participants that they wouldn’t have felt safe going on without me!”
How have community members reacted to walking interviews?
“Really positive. I can’t thank the community members enough, everyone who has taken part in the study have been ever so kind and incredibly interesting and I have thoroughly enjoyed walking and talking with them.”
What can researchers learn from non-academic partners like County Durham Sport?
Miles said that County Durham Sport have been “extremely useful for understanding the local population and have been vital for me in terms of being able to connect me with local community centres and walking groups.”
What are you seeing and hearing in the community so far?
“People tend to open up whilst walking in winter and experiencing nature. There are suggestions that weather is linked to people’s identity and people have often defended or are proud their local weather.”
“People emphasize the importance of history on walks…People who live by the coast seem to have an affinity towards the sea and have lived by the coast most of their lives.”
People want to “experience variation when walking and experience a lot of different environments and surfaces within one walk.”
Through County Durham Sport’s strong community ties, and Durham University’s innovative research approach, we have been able to engage people in research who may never have participated in this type of project before. Moreover, we have managed to do so whilst being active!
Conversations with local people are showing that walking is about so much more than physical activity and health benefits. History, culture, and social identity are all reasons why people choose to walk, and explore their local area. In the next few months, we will be holding creative workshops at community venues in East Durham, where people can come together to share and discuss these themes collectively.
This research project is part of a Miles Lowson’s Masters by Research, funded by County Durham Sport and supervised by Dr Cassandra Phoenix (Durham University, Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences). Article by Dr Rachel Mowbray (Insight Coordinator, County Durham Sport).