Heart Foundation Walking
Heart Foundation Walking is Australia’s largest free walking network. It is part of the broader Heart Foundation Healthy Hearts agenda to encourage and support walking and physical activity. This includes focusing on, advocating for and enhancing supportive environments for active living as well as a marketing and communications component aimed at raising the profile of walking as a fun, free and accessible physical activity for everyone.
The Heart Foundation works in partnership with Host Organisations and nominated Local Coordinator/s to set up walking groups in the community or workplace. Local Coordinators come from a variety of backgrounds including health and community centres, councils and workplaces and work with the Heart Foundation to recruit and assist volunteer Walk Organisers to establish groups. Local Coordinators can also engage individual Walkers through establishing an online community of virtual Walkers.
Walk Organisers begin and maintain groups in their community with the assistance of their Local Coordinator. They are provided with resources, training and support and receive complimentary Heart Foundation merchandise for their role. Registered Walkers are also provided with information and newsletters, and may choose to participate in the Walker Recognition Scheme which includes certificates and other incentives when they reach walking milestones (e.g. 25 walks).
The Heart Foundation provides ongoing assistance, support and resources to all Host Organisations, Local Coordinators and Walk Organisers.
Heart Foundation Walking Park Walks is an extension of the Heart Foundation Walking program. It aims to encourage people to enjoy themselves in their local natural environments including conservation parks, recreation parks, beaches and botanic gardens.
People are encouraged to immerse themselves in their natural surroundings and enjoy the physical, social, mental and spiritual health benefits of visiting parks. Parks, with their scenic landscapes and facilities, provide the perfect opportunity for people to get fit and healthy while taking time out to relax and revitalise.
The National Heart Foundation of Australia and People and Parks Foundation have partnered to launch an exciting new Park Walks program for 2015 with a focus on expanding the program across Australia and supporting more people to get walking in their parks.
The Barwon Medicare Local Heart Foundation Walking Park Walks Program
The Barwon Medicare Local Heart Foundation Walking Park Walks program target suburbs with rapid population growth at risk of losing community connectedness, and aims to increase the number of walking groups within that region. People within these communities are encouraged to participate in weekly walks facilitated by an Active in Parks coordinator in order to achieve better physical, mental and social health through outdoor activity and social interaction. Leadership roles are transferred to willing participants who sustain the coordination of the walking group, allowing the Active in Parks coordinator to slowly cease participation and move onto another area to repeat the process. All walking groups are registered Heart Foundation Walking Groups, which provides ongoing structure, support and resources.
Keys to Success and Learning Points
- Locations are chosen that do not have existing walking groups or have limited opportunity for physical activity together with a decrease in community connectedness due to rapid population growth.
- Participants are recruited through local media avenues, letter drops, community houses and flyers displayed in local shop fronts.
- The coordinator runs the group in its initial phases by leading the groups on walks throughout the local area, focussing on local parks and natural areas. Different trails are explored and walkers are supported to become familiarised with their local outdoor spaces.
- Choosing a route or trail that can cater to all abilities is important to ensure cohesiveness and satisfaction amongst the group.
- Social interaction is encouraged, for example coffee after the walk to support participants to continue relationships outside the scheduled walks.
- Once the group builds momentum, which is evident by growth in the group and regularity of attendance, the coordinator appoints a ‘leader’ to take on the management of the group. This ensures sustainability of the group and supports the development of leadership skills.
- Participants experience improved levels of physical activity and wellbeing
- Improved social cohesiveness amongst the community
- Participants acquire a higher level of knowledge about the walks in the area, as well as the benefits of walking and connecting with others in their area.