People try a walking group for the exercise but stay because of the friends they make over a post-walk cuppa, according to Heart Foundation Walking Program Officer Tara Henderson.
'We don't tell people they have to have a cuppa, but they usually work out that it's a good thing to do after the walk,' Tara laughs.
Heart Foundation Walking has grown to be Australia’s largest free walking network since being rolled out to all states, territories and metropolitan regional areas in 2005.
'We chose walking because it's Australia's most popular physical activity for adults, most people can do it, you don't need fancy equipment to walk other than a pair of comfortable shoes, and you can be social while doing it,' Tara says.
'Walking is what we call a "moderate intensity physical activity". So, it does elevate the heart rate a little bit, but it's achievable for most people and it's a functional activity as well so going on regular walks is a way to improve and retain people's mobility as they get older.'
The Heart Foundation provides resources and training to local partners on the ground, including councils, health centres, neighbourhood houses and even shopping centres and volunteer organisers lead the groups.
'In Victoria, we have 224 walking groups with 5,089 walkers and 336 volunteers that support those walking groups on the ground,' Tara says.
'There's a real range of groups. The Heart Foundation doesn't prescribe how long or fast a group should walk, although most of our walks are anywhere between 20 and 90 minutes.
'Groups that are part of an allied health service might cater for people with lower mobility, and lower levels of fitness, but then you have groups that like long walks. They might even do bush walks and faster paced walks.'
Potential participants can search for their local group on the Heart Foundation Walking by entering their postcode. They can then drill down to find further information, including the pace of the group, and contact the volunteer walk leader to see if it’s the right group for them.
'It’s all about providing a free, fun and social opportunity for people to connect and build their fitness and build their cardiovascular health,' Tara says.
'What we hear time and time again is that people join a walking group with their health in mind, but they stay walking with their group because of the social connections made and that cup of coffee after the group. The friendships are very long term.
'We have a 100-year-old walker in Broadmeadows. She gets picked up for each walk, and the group take turns in holding her arm during the walk … that really captures that sense of community in the groups.'
Reviewed 21 December 2022