The Solution To Our Obesity Crisis Could Be A Walk In The Park

By Di Westaway | Chief Adventure Chick | CEO Wild Women On Top 

If you're feeling flat from the flu or finding it tough to thrive, you're not alone. Over a million Aussies not only endure the flu but could suffer serious complications due to an existing chronic disease.

Nearly 70% of Australians are suffering from chronic disease, including obesity, mental illness, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, dementia and/or heart disease. The World Health Organisation calls it a global epidemic noting that, “Insufficient physical activity is one of the leading risk factors for death worldwide.” 

Incredibly, many of these illnesses are preventable and treatable with lifestyle changes, like daily walking. This solution seems simple but is extremely hard to do en masse, in our largely sedentary, urban, technology-addicted world.

A key factor stopping many of us from being healthy is that it takes desire and discipline to do stuff that hurts, like traditional exercise. When most people think fitness, they think pain. Like quitting smoking, exercising is really hard to do. We know it's good for us, but we just don’t do it because we're too busy, too tired, too scared, too poor or too sick.

The 2017 Australian National Health Survey, which slipped past most of us as we guzzled our Christmas champagne, found that 11 million Aussies are overweight or obese, while rates of stress and mental illness are on the rise. Doctors, healthcare companies, scientists, gyms, fitness bloggers and celebrity fitness gurus aren’t even making a dint in the problem, so we need to fix ourselves. And then we need to help those around us. 

Some doctors are successfully treating chronic disease using Lifestyle Medicine rather than traditional pharmaceutical medicines. Lifestyle medicine relies on specific activities, practices and habits to heal the body and the mind. A lifestyle medicine intervention is a program, prescribed by your doctor, designed to change behaviour by using healthy habits for a set period. But doctors are battling to keep patients motivated. 

So, how do we motivate ourselves to take our medicine? How can we motivate those we love to get and keep healthy habits when studies show that most people think exercise is painful, time-consuming torture, best left for gym junkies? 

One option is to make moving fun, adventurous and social. And what is the simplest activity we can do that’s fun, adventurous and social? Well, it's hiking, of course.

The simple act of hiking is a winner for health and happiness when done just 30 minutes a day. When people walk they start to feel better. When they walk together they feel happier. And when they walk together in nature, they feel a healthy buzz. And if the walking has a purpose beyond oneself, it can really bring joy.

We are more likely to stick with healthy behaviours when we find a healthy tribe to support us. The Girl Trek movement in America is a great example of this. In the past three years, this community of women has got over 140,000 women walking 30 minutes a day as a radical act of selfcare. 

Health Director of the CSIRO, Dr Robert Grenfell, says: "Motivation, or lack of it, is one of the handbrakes that stop us from exercising". An effective way of building and sustaining motivation to exercise is to set a goal and do it with a group. After doing this there is a good chance it has set up some good habits of walking frequently."

So, we need simple physical activities that are easy and enjoyable to make us well. Cycling, swimming, surfing, yoga, soccer, netball, pilates and kayaking are awesome, but you need skills and equipment for these. But walking with friends is low cost and simple and it can be done by everyone, no matter their size, shape, age or fitness level. You just need a goal, a buddy and a plan.

"Walking in nature appears to be better for you than exercising in a gym," says Dr Grenfell.

"When you are outside you have the wind, sunshine, trees, birds and things that make you feel good inside and out. This is great for your mental wellbeing. Also, the irregular pathways assist in improving reflexes and muscle responses. Add some friends and you have an all-round great exercise experience. And it only costs your time."

So grab a buddy, get outside and go for a hike – it’s the best healthcare money can’t buy.

Need a bit of motivation to get you out there? Want to meet a community who'll take your fitness to new heights? You've found us. 

 

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