Miles Lowson recently completed a Masters by research at Durham University. It aimed to understand the role winter weather has for older people walking in East Durham. Here, he shares his experiences and lists five tips for walk organisers catering for older people.
Typically, the norm in winter for many people is to stay indoors, hibernate, and in my family eat loads of chocolate! It can be challenging to stay active in winter and one big issue is usually the weather. For example, the mornings and evenings are darker. You are more likely to experience rain, cold, snow, ice, and wind. This puts a lot of people off.
I wanted to know more about older people’s experiences of walking in winter. So then, maybe, I could help them to stay more active.
I found, contrary to what many think, that older adults really enjoyed walking in winter. There were lots of good days, lovely weather, and different views to experience.
People talked about the “immediate benefits” they got from walking in winter:
• The fewer leaves on trees made places feel completely different and people got a better view of the wildlife and scenery.
• They enjoyed different types of weather; the wind helped many feel refreshed or more alive.
• Some people loved seeing how the wind made the sea or bodies of water choppy.
• Others loved seeing the water still and the sun bouncing off the surface; this was also true of frozen lakes.
• The way snow and ice interacted with places offered people different and engaging spectacles.
• Exposure to fresh air made people feel good.
Overall, the combination of the fresh air, nature, and being active helped people to combat the winter blues. Some people even found walking in winter to be easier because of the cooler weather and the paths being less overgrown. Walking also really helped people to get to know and connect with their local areas.
The findings of my study informed a set of practical recommendations for people supporting older adults to be active in winter in the form of a booklet produced by County Durham Sport and myself. This has been shared with many different organisations, partners and volunteers that help support older people to be active in winter.
My five recommendations to anyone thinking about organising a winter walk for older people are:
• Assess the weather and adapt
There are lots of good days for walking in winter and a lot of sunny days. People needn’t shy away from certain routes and only walk on tarmacked paths just because it is winter.
• Have a set of walking poles that people can borrow
Walking poles give people extra support and balance and help them get up and down steep terrains in all sorts of weathers. Having them available to lend helps people who can’t afford them to take part.
• Teach people how to navigate
Fear of getting lost can be a safety concern for some older adults and can stop them being active. Teaching people how to walk a route without walk leaders can allow people to stay active independently.
• Give a warm welcome
Have a designated person who walks with new people when they join a group, so they feel welcomed and want to come back
• Don’t just walk for walking’s sake
Advertising walks as a chance to learn what’s in the local area or about local can mean more people want to walk.
For more information of my project, please email me, Miles Lowson at email@example.com.