The charity was set up in 2003 to reduce health inequalities and promote positive lifestyle changes in rural South Lanarkshire. The project prioritises deprived areas and supports people who are at a high risk of poor physical and mental health, have a long-term health condition, and are isolated or lonely.
The weekly Health Walks with Dementia Friendly Walking status are in Lesmahagow, Rigside, Biggar and Lanark.
Healthy Valleys are a member of the Scottish Health Walk Network and work in partnership with South Lanarkshire Health and Social Care Partnership, GPs, and a range of allied health professionals to allow referrals to their project. This ensures they are meeting the needs of those who require extra support in the Clydesdale area.
Involving people living with dementia in the design of their activities is an important step in providing the services they need and making communities more inclusive.
Consultations with people living with dementia and their carers found everyone had walking ‘memories’ they could talk about, like walking to school, or enjoying local landmarks, such as Tinto Hill, with their families. Many people missed being able to walk regularly or spend time outdoors. Gardening was the main outdoor activity.
People living with dementia benefit from being outdoors and in contact with nature as it can help relieve stress, increase self-esteem, produce vitamin D, and exercise the brain, helping with memory and cognitive functioning.
One walker with Healthy Valleys commented:
As long as I have an arm to support me, I like to walk [and see] the colours and the trees.
Even 10 to 15 minutes of daily walking outdoors can improve the overall wellbeing of anyone living with dementia. Physical activity can bring many benefits, such as improved: sleep; physical fitness; confidence; mood; and self-esteem. Being active can help improve memory and slow down mental decline as well as reduce the risk of osteoporosis and stroke.
Often people living with dementia spend less time outdoors due to feeling frightened to leave their house or carers thinking they are safer at home. Dementia Friendly Health Walks seek to provide a safe, supported, and caring space to make time outdoors with other people relaxing and fun.
Local short walking routes that are easy to reach and accessible for a range of walking abilities were seen as very important, in addition to meeting points with toilets. Well maintained, wide and level paths and pavements are key to making short walks enjoyable. All four of Healthy Valleys Dementia Friendly Health Walks offer short accessible walks from 30 minutes to 1 hour maximum and have accessible meeting places with toilets. Socialising opportunities are not currently allowed under the Covid-19 restrictions but have been planned for.
Carers felt they would benefit from a walk as a form of respite and the social aspect of a walking group. The closure of day care and other services due to the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a loss of formal and informal support, services, and activities for people with dementia and unpaid carers. This loss of formal provision has also created additional caring duties for unpaid carers. Therefore, Healthy Valley’s Dementia Friendly Health Walks are a fantastic opportunity for people to socialise safely outdoors and help improve mobility, confidence and overcome feelings of isolation.
Fourteen Volunteer Health Walk Leaders with Healthy Valleys have benefitted from Paths for All’s Dementia Friendly Walk Leader training and Dementia Friends Awareness training to help them in their leading role. The volunteers have received branded jackets, face masks, woolly hats, hi-visibility vests, and name badges to make them easily identifiable for any walker who needs assistance.
Donald Martin, a Healthy Valleys Volunteer Walk Leader since 2018 won Paths for All’s Dementia Friendly Volunteer of the Year award in November for his work with the Lanark Dementia Friendly Health Walk.
Read here how Donald has benefited from volunteering and the support that is available to walkers with dementia to help them enjoy time outdoors exercising. Watch Donald's film below.
Project co-ordinator, Gail McAra praised her dedicated team of fourteen friendly and encouraging volunteers who offer a warm welcome to any new walker. She said:
Being able to complete our Dementia Friendly accreditation during these difficult times has given our project and volunteers a real boost. We would not have been able to achieve this without the commitment of our volunteers and Walk Leaders.
Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed meeting local support groups, experiencing the fantastic work and support they provide to local people with experience of dementia, and gaining valued knowledge to be able to support and develop our walks in the future so more people with dementia can live well in their local community with the condition.
Chief Officer Ian Findlay CBE, with Paths for All, praised Healthy Valleys for offering Dementia Friendly Health Walks so people can live well with the condition in their local community. He said:
Well done to Healthy Valley’s staff and volunteers for providing four Dementia Friendly Health Walks in the Clydesdale area.
The project’s consultation process highlighted the importance of accessible and well-maintained walking routes suitable for a wide range of abilities.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also highlighted the need for quality walking environments to help people living with a range of health conditions spend time safely outdoors to support their physical, mental and social health.
Walking groups are allowed under the current government guidelines and I would encourage anyone living in the Clydesdale area to join their local Health Walk group and to walk once a day this winter.
Find your local Health Walk on our website.
Find out about all of Healthy Valleys Health Walks here.