Real Life | Walking with the Well-a-Head Group

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A simple walk can do wonders for your mental health and well being. And it is for this reason why more people are setting up walking groups to take a positive step towards better health.

Fresh air, exercise and talking are just some of the positive things people can do to help support their mental health and well being.

Getting the opportunity to get out, walk and talk can be quite difficult for some. Taking that first step to do it can be the hardest.

Recognising the benefits of ecotherapy – walking in woodlands and other natural environments – more people are partaking and or setting up groups to encourage others to take that first step.

For example, Ita Kelly from Wicklow Mental Health Services and Charlie Burke from Coillte started a walking group in Co Wicklow as an alternative therapy in the area of mental health.

The walking group initially started as a 12-week programme repeated two to three times a year and is now run weekly throughout the whole year.

The gentle three-hour walks include a talk on the environment, environmental art and relaxation. At the end of the programme, participants share a meal to celebrate their achievements.

Such was the success of the initiative that they decided to form a separate social group in April 2014. This includes other activities such as tai chi, kayaking, yoga, kayaking, team building days, gardening etc.

The group’s aim is simple. They want to support one another by talking and listening in an informal setting. And by participating in activities, “members are given the opportunity to socialise and form friendships with others who understand and can empathise through a shared experience of mental health issues.”

But does this really work? According to a study on the group by the HSE and University College Dublin, participants mood improved by 75 per cent and sleep by 77 per cent. More importantly, their thoughts of suicide declined by over 80 per cent.

Indeed,  many of the walkers said they felt less agitated and anxious after the programme, and some of them cut back on medication and clinical appointments.

For more information on the walking group, click here.