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UK Coaching Team
Safety and Welfare Self-care and development

Tackling Coronavirus Anxiety a Walk in the Park

Deconditioning caused by decreased levels of physical activity during the pandemic, particularly among the elderly ‘shielding’ at home or anxious about going outside, is costing lives. Blake Richardson underlines the importance of walking as a simple and effective exercise habit that can help to fight the virus and issues a call to arms to coaches

Walking is man’s best medicine." – Hippocrates

We have all been touched by nature and experienced the beauty of the great outdoors. However, I would venture that our aesthetic appreciation of the natural world is greater than our scientific appreciation of the health benefits derived from immersing ourselves in our natural surroundings.

Talking of venturing, the further we journey from our doorstep, the further we go to improving our physical and mental health. An alternative headline for this awareness-raising article could be, putting in the miles will help you feel s-miles better. Because by getting into the pattern of walking more, you really will be taking steps – huge strides even – to a happier, healthier and, potentially, longer life.

And the evidence backs this up. 

According to a study by the University of East Anglia (UEA), regular exposure to green spaces is associated with more than 100 different health outcomes.

Taking a ‘nature pill’ and making an invigorating scenic walk part of your daily routine can be a tonic for mind, body and soul. 

Now that really is a breath of fresh air in these troubling times, where feelings of isolation, anxiety and mounting confusion have turned so many people’s lives upside down.

Walking a key weapon in fight against Covid-19

The Government has been at pains to point out the role of physical activity in the nation’s recovery.

Aside from the well-documented physical benefits of exercise, such as helping to reduce obesity, and its benefits to our social well-being by helping us meet new people and develop friendships, exercise is also great for our mental health, improving our mood through the release of ‘happy hormones’ that can help to reduce the likelihood of developing depression by up to 30%.

The UEA study referenced above found that the elixir of exercise in combination with green spaces can further elevate its ‘magic’ effect, making the double act a potent weapon against coronavirus.

Some of the most significant benefits of reconnecting with nature revealed in the 2018 study – which compiled evidence from over 140 studies involving more than 290 million people – were:

  • it decreases your salivary cortisol (linked to stress, depression and anxiety)
  • lowers blood pressure
  • lowers LDL cholesterol and increases levels of ‘good’ HDL cholesterol
  • lowers the risk of developing type II diabetes
  • lowers the risk of developing cardiovascular problems
  • lowers the risk of developing asthma.

And this is just scratching the surface. Taking regular strolls in your natural surroundings also lowers the risk of developing dementia and is a secret weapon in the fight against certain cancers. 

What’s more, the more you walk in the countryside – or, if you are a city dweller, your nearest urban park – the more you will be protecting yourself from Covid-19. Because this most simplest of leisure pursuits helps to boost our immune system too by reducing stress hormones that cause inflammation, whilst increasing the presence of immune cells which guard the body against invading viruses and bacteria.

Calling all coaches, your country needs YOU! 

Okay, fine, but what does this have to do with coaching, you ask? 


Coaches can be the nudge that inactive people need to help them make the leap from contemplation to action. Factor in that, at the last head count by UK Coaching in 2017, there are more than three million active coaches in the UK. That’s a lot of people to help spread the message that walking in the great outdoors can improve people’s physical, psychological, social and emotional well-being.

Whatever your coaching title or role – coordinator, volunteer, activator, leader, instructor, teacher, trainer – as a coach you can inspire others to make positive behaviour change. 

This article is an appeal for coaches to use your influence to shine a light on the significant health outcomes of a humble walk and mobilise your community to get off their armchairs and swap couch for canal path, futon for footpath. Because if people stay cooped up in their lounge too long, they will lounge! The clue is in the name.

Tell your players and your parents; your clients and your classes; your pupils and your fellow teachers; your community programme participants and your fellow volunteers. But also have an informal educational chat with your work colleagues, your friends and your family. 

It is vital that EVERYONE gets the message and is inspired to act on it. Because we know that fear can spread as fast as any virus, and that this can also be deadly.

It is understandable that people are nervous about going outside during the pandemic. The over-70s are reminded every day in the media that they are more likely to be hospitalised and, sadly, die as a result of coronavirus than any other population group. 

The upshot is a decline in physical activity levels. And the more deconditioned people become, the more they lose their fitness, strength and mobility, which is playing right into the hands of the enemy. 

Loss of routine a ticking timebomb

We must provide an alternative for those people too frightened to even contemplate walking to their local corner shop to pick up a newspaper – the sort of daily ‘work-out’ that, for the elderly, helps to maintain bone and joint strength that can prevent fractures by reducing the risk of falls.

More worrying still are the stories of people too scared to visit their local surgery for a routine check-up. In too many cases, those who are willing to venture out are finding that the health programme they rely on is no longer running, or that the NHS cannot treat them due to a suspension or cancellation of their normal care

Every day we read that health services, including operations, scans and screenings, are being side-lined in the fight against Covid-19, as the government prioritises its efforts on curbing the rise in hospital admissions of people testing positive with the virus.

A significant number of older people are becoming housebound as a result, and this cumulative slide into a more sedentary lifestyle is a ticking timebomb.

Go the extra mile

We need to merge the message that we have never needed physical activity more with the advice to fully utilise our green spaces.

The Times newspaper ran an article that referenced myriad studies on walking in green spaces.

It included a study of 4,382 people commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation that found 60% of adults who felt stressed because of lockdown rules said that going for a walk helped them to cope, while 47% said visiting green spaces was particularly beneficial.

In the Government’s People and Nature Survey for England in July – an online survey that assesses people’s enjoyment, access and attitudes to the natural environment, and it’s contributions to well-being – 42% of those surveyed reported that “nature and wildlife is more important than ever” to their well-being.

The evidence cannot be ignored. So, what are the solutions, besides relying on word of mouth to provide a mass shout-out of the benefits?

Here are a few suggestions.

Six awe-some ideas to consider

  1. Most running clubs have members trained as Run Leaders who plan the sessions and motivate, advise and encourage their fellow members. Why not introduce ‘walk leaders’ at your club or activity group that serve the same function?
  1. Go on an ‘awe’ walk. When you spend time outside, be more mindful of your surroundings by making full use of all your senses. Breathe in through your nose and smell the different scents in the air; trace the veins in the leaves as you inspect their vibrant colours and design; take notice of the wildlife that is all around you and that can literally go over your head when you are on autopilot. 
  1. Buy someone you know a fitness tracker. Wearable technology is a multi-billion-pound industry and there is a fitness tracker to suit everyone’s needs. Monitor your steps, set yourself goals and improve your aerobic fitness on the way. You might allow yourself a little reward for achieving your targets as motivation.
  1. Implement walking meetings in your workplace. So simple, so effective and so hard to believe that this exercise intervention technique hasn’t been around for longer.
  1. Take your workout outdoors. Escape your claustrophobic front room and choose an idyllic spot where you can breathe in clean outdoor air, not the musty air from an unventilated room where the central heating has been on all morning.
  1. If your destination is within walking distance (for example, school or work), resist the urge to drive or use public transport. Put on some trainers and put your best feet forward. Research from StreetGames has found that many children have a negative attitude towards walking because they do not think it has a social benefit.

You are never far from green space. Even London has more than 3,000 parks which cover nearly a fifth of the city.

So, seek out your local bridleways, parks or parkland trails; take a short drive to the grounds of a nearby historic country house or stately home; wander through woodland, round a lake or reservoir; go on a brisk stroll along a canal towpath; browse the many gardens that are open for public visitors. Or just take the scenic route to the shops!

If you need some help and aren’t sure where the best off-road routes are in your area, then the Slow Ways project will point you in the right direction. Their website contains a network of walking routes that connect towns, cities and villages across the country.

And wherever you venture, remember that while our natural surroundings can move us and inspire us, the real beauty of nature lies in its power to positively and emphatically impact our health and well-being.

Immersing yourself in nature doesn’t cost a penny but the benefits are priceless.

Related Resources

  • Supporting Behaviour Change: Giving ‘Brief Advice’

  • Reducing Physical Inactivity in Adults

  • Enjoy a Change of Scenery: Train Outdoors!


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