Time to Talk Day, is a National Awareness Day aimed at promoting understanding about mental health. Something that is more important than ever, as mental health issues have been on the rise during the coronavirus pandemic.
For almost two years now, we have been leading Couch to Coast health walks as part of the Connecting Actively to Nature (CAN) programme. We’ve created walking groups in Plymstock, Westward Ho! Teignmouth, Torbay, and North Devon – all possible thanks to a close working partnership with Active Devon and funding from Sport England to help inactive over 55s get more active and enjoy some sociable activity with new people in the area they live. From feedback we’ve collected, we know that our projects are having a positive impact on people’s mental health. In order to understand why, we can look at how these projects relate to the ‘5 ways of well-being’
What are the 5 ways of well-being?
Twelve years ago, the New Economics Foundation reviewed over 400 scientific studies in order to identify key things that contribute to our wellbeing. Echoing the familiar ‘five a day’ message for fruit and veg, they came up with 5 key areas aimed at helping individuals to understand and incorporate wellbeing into their everyday lives. These ‘5 ways to well-being’ are shared by Mind, the mental health charity and the NHS as the building blocks of a healthy mind.
1. Connect with other people
Good relationships are important for your mental wellbeing.
- help you to build a sense of belonging and self-worth
- give you an opportunity to share positive experiences
- provide emotional support and allow you to support others
Although physical activity is a key focus for our CAN walks, it is the social aspects that often have the greatest impact, often picked up strongly in participant feedback. Walking in a group allows you to not only talk to new people, but also connect more easily. People often find walking side-by-side with less eye contact feels more comfortable and allows them to discuss personal issues more easily. In addition to this, we end all of our walks with a well-earned cup of tea or coffee, and who doesn’t enjoy a chat over a cuppa?
“Walks with company are very enjoyable.”
2. Be physically active
Being active is not only great for your physical health and fitness, but it can also improve your mental wellbeing by:
- raising your self-esteem
- helping you to set goals or challenges and achieve them
- causing chemical changes in your brain, which can help to positively change your mood
For our CAN projects called Couch to Coast, we built up people’s exercise levels to enable them to walk 5km on the Coast Path. And as they are walking and talking, people often say that they don’t notice the physical activity.
“Walk further and different places than if I were on my own.”
3. Learn new skills
Research shows that learning new skills can also improve your mental wellbeing by:
- boosting self-confidence and raising self-esteem
- helping you to build a sense of purpose
- helping you to connect with others
We always have a guest speaker or theme to our CAN walks, so that participants learn something about their local area, or how to spot wildlife. This again is a key part of our walking programme.
“Good planning, nice walks, very informative talks and experts.”
4. Give to others
Research suggests that acts of giving and kindness can help improve your mental wellbeing by:
- creating positive feelings and a sense of reward
- giving you a feeling of purpose and self-worth
- helping you connect with other people
Our CAN walks would not be possible without the work of our volunteers who take on roles of back marking, checking routes and supporting participants. In Torbay, when we got back walking in 2020 after lockdown restrictions, we put out a plea for volunteers to take charge of small groups of six to fulfil the new guidelines on group exercise. From this, we were inundated with offers to help from participants, and many people wanted to lend a hand to ensure that the walking group could continue.
During the lockdown, one volunteer went and above and beyond to continue supporting the recently formed group by offering to help deliver essential shopping to those who couldn’t leave the house. He said “I feel this is a lovely extension of the CAN project which has no doubt helped with people’s emotional and physical well-being at a difficult time.”
5. Pay attention to the present moment (mindfulness)
Paying more attention to the present moment can improve your mental wellbeing. This includes your thoughts and feelings, your body, and the world around you.
With the sometimes challenging ups and downs of walking the Coast Path, we include lots of breaks to stop and admire the views (and catch our breath!) By doing this we can really notice things like the seasonal changes, wildlife, changes in the landscape and appreciate the beautiful coastal scenery. Paying attention on the Coast Path also means watching the weather and keeping an eagle-eye out for rain clouds!
“Positives were meeting others, encouragement to walk and socialise, chance to appreciate the area where we live.”
The next steps
As soon as it is safe to do so we will be re-starting our Couch to Coast project in Ilfracombe and also have plans for new projects in Plymouth with our partner Improving Lives Plymouth and Torbay later in the year. Head to our website to find out how you can get involved.