Published: 2nd JUNE 2023

Walking has changed our lives: The Sustrans volunteers who discovered the joys of walking later in life

Since Anna and Malcolm joined their local Sustrans-led walking group, they are using their car less for shorter journeys, have felt their fitness improving and have formed new friendships.

An older man and woman stood next to each other in a town both smiling

“Walking has changed our lives." Credit: Anna and Malcolm May

Anna and Malcolm, who discovered the joys of walking later in life, volunteer for Sustrans as walking leaders to spread the joy and benefits of walking to others.

“Walking has changed our life.

“The cases of mental health issues rose during the pandemic, there was a lot of people in isolation, everyone was in a similar storm.

“Finding a walking group in this time was a way of reconnecting with the outside world.

“We sadly lost a lot of friends during the lockdowns.

“All of our friends are walkers now”, Anna explained.

Most of their walks, which take them down the river in Southampton or on local nature reserves, end in a coffee stop and a good natter with their group.


Overcoming hurdles 

Looking back on their first hour-long walk, the couple, both aged 73, said they were “shattered” afterwards and that “everything ached”.

Malcolm added: “We came to the realisation that, because of our joints, we can’t run anymore.

“A gym isn’t the place for us.

“The best form of exercise and getting around is walking.

“I think more people our age should do it if they can.

“A lot of people need to change their attitudes towards themselves once they get to a certain age.

“There are people older than us in our walking groups who are fitter than us and that’s great motivation.

“You’ve got to get out and live while you can.”


A change in lifestyle 

Anna and Malcolm go on hour-long walks four times a week and have recently been trained by Sustrans as walk leaders.

They are now in the process of setting up their own twice-monthly walking group.

Walking hasn’t just improved their mental and physical health, but it has also changed their mindset when it comes to making local journeys.

Anna said: “There was a time when, out of ease, I’d just jump in the car to go down the road to get a pint of milk.

“Whereas now I’ll take a walk over to the shops instead if I only need a couple of things.

“We’re definitely a lot fitter now than we were before the pandemic; we hardly did any walking at all.”

A word of advice for those wanting to take up walking later in life

The couple commented: “Our advice would be, just do what you can manage.

“Start off with just 10 minutes around the block, which is how we started, then slowly add a bit more time onto each journey.

“If you want to join a local walking group, your local library may have posters up in there. Or visit your council’s website or give them a call.

“The great thing is that almost anyone can do it, it keeps your mind active, allows you to experience nature, meet new people, and it doesn’t cost you a penny.”

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