The Scottish Government and COSLA’s Public Health Reform aims to create “a Scotland where everybody thrives”. As part of this reform, the Improving Health Commission is looking into prioritising health as a human right, taking a Health in All Policies approach and prioritise prevention and community capacity.
We believe that walking should be at the heart of public health. Being more active through walking creates healthier and longer lives – and that takes pressure off our health and social care services.
Investing in walking and physical activity is an example of “preventative spend” and is important as pressure increases on NHS budgets and our population ages. It is also important for supporting self-management of long-term conditions and enabling people to keep active for longer.
One of the most effective ways to improve our health is to increase physical activity levels. Walking has been proven to be the most popular, accessible and effective way of doing this. We believe that we can help people be more active by making walking part of all our daily lives.
The importance of physical activity and walking for health is well documented:
• Being physically active can reduce the risk of diabetes by up to 40%
• Regular physical activity has been estimated to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke by up to 35%
• Healthy behaviours during mid-life such as regular physical exercise and maintaining a healthy diet and weight can decrease the risk of dementia
• Being physically active at recommended levels can reduce the risk of depression by around a third
Participation in sport varies by age, gender, deprivation and household income, but when we include walking for recreation, the gap narrows. Walking is therefore a good leveller and helps tackle health inequalities.
Paths for All and our partners are involved in key areas of work that support the National Walking Strategy and plans for a healthier Scotland. We are very keen to engage more with the health and social care sector to share our experience and raise awareness of the opportunities. An important avenue that we feel should be promoted is better advice and signposting of opportunities for physical activity – including walking.
Social prescribing moves away from the assumption that prescription of medicine is always the answer health problems. Our recent annual Expert Lecture focussed on social prescribing to get Scotland active. The event highlighted the need for community-based activities to be available and accessible across Scotland – from Health Walks to gardening clubs and dance classes.
Ian McCall is Senior Development Officer at Paths for All, Scotland’s walking charity – a partnership organisation which aims to significantly increase the number of people who choose to walk in Scotland.