12:00PM, Wednesday 21 December 2016
A special programme of Christmas countryside walks could be the 'silver bullet' in the fight against loneliness.
The claim has been made as Buckinghamshire County Council's (BCC) Simply Walk scheme gears up for the festive season.
Offering more than 70 free guided treks across the county every week, the initiative aims to improve mental and emotional wellbeing, particularly among the elderly and others at risk of social isolation.
This year, a Christmas Day walk is due to leave Hedsor Social Club, in Hedsor Road, Bourne End, at 10.45am.
And other sessions are also scheduled for Boxing Day and New Year's Day.
Fiona Broadbent, the scheme's lead officer, said it was especially important during the festive season.
“This is particularly true at Christmas, when for whatever reason some people are unable to be with loved ones and there is perhaps a heightened sense of isolation," she added.
“We find the walks really bring people together.
"They can have a good chat while they walk and we’ve known for lifelong friendships to be formed.
"It doesn’t take many steps before your mind starts to untangle itself – I think it must be the rhythm of your footsteps, being outside and back with nature.
"I really do believe walking is the silver bullet for improving body and mind.”
The programme, which has been running for 14 years, is run by 300 volunteers, who give up about 5,000 hours a year to support the different groups involved across the county.
It is funded by BCC, the Buckinghamshire district councils, Burnham Health Promotion Trust and others, as well as walkers’ donations.
Praising the scheme, BCC cabinet member for Transport Mark Shaw said: “Christmas can be a difficult time for people if they’re unable to spend it with loved ones, so it’s great that these walking groups are available throughout the festive season.
"I know that when you’re out walking with people you forget about all your cares and woes.
"The Simply Walk programme keeps people fit and also contributes to them staying independent for longer.”
Visit www.buckscc.gov.uk/environment/rights-of-way/exploring-the-countryside/simply-walk to find out more.
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