With Federal funding for Heart Foundation Walking groups set to expire in June, the national charity is calling for an investment of $9.5 million over three years to keep Australia’s largest free walking network striding forward.
Cardiovascular disease affects 4 million Australians and accounts for nearly 30% of all deaths, which is one death every 12 minutes, according to Heart Foundation reports.
Heart conditions are some of the most expensive health concerns to treat, consuming $10.4 billion of Australia’s annual healthcare budget.
A whopping 85% of Australian adults are not meeting recommended physical activity levels of 150 minutes a week, missing an opportunity to reduce their risk of heart disease by up to 35%.
Meanwhile, a Heart Foundation survey showed nine out of ten walking group participants were getting the recommended amount of exercise.
Provided funding is renewed, the Foundation aims to more than double walking group participation from 80,000 to over 200,000 people.
There are about 1300 walking groups across the country, at least 30 of which are in Canberra and Queanbeyan.
Fisher walk organiser Judy McGurk runs three walks a week for her retirement village, and has clocked up close to 800 strolls and marches since she became involved in the program over 12 years ago.
“I think walking is important, because it gets people out, and we get the exercise – I think that’s very important,” she says.
In 2020, Judy won the Heart Foundation Golden Shoe Award for the second time, one of four awards granted by the charity annually.
The Golden Shoe Award recognises a “wellness warrior” for whom walking is key to their healthy lifestyle – Judy says she walks everywhere and only catches buses for long distances.
She prefers paper and pen to an online form, so the Foundation sends her walking group registration forms and record-keeping documents by post.
The Walker Recognition Scheme rewards members with certificates, pins, polo shirts and vouchers, based on the number of walks they attend.
A new member of Judy’s group, Stella, says joining the weekly walks has helped her recover from knee surgery.
“Being in a group is more incentive,” she says. “This is wonderful because it’s helping to get me going again.”
Neville and his dog, Lucy, go for two walks a day and regularly join in with the social walking group, who have become very fond of the rescue dog.
For another new member, Nancy, it’s a chance to get to know the neighbourhood after moving to Canberra from Melbourne.
Judy’s group sings her praises: she points out bumps in the path, introduces them to lovely walks around the area, carries water and first aid, and “even pushes sticks off the path!”.
The group is advertised in the village newsletter and by word of mouth.
“And if I see anybody walking, I think, ‘Ah, they’d be good for the group!’” Judy says.
Heart Foundation CEO Adjunct Professor John Kelly says the heart foundation walking initiative is “low-cost, high-value”, it helps prevent heart disease and provides many other benefits along the way.
“The good news is walking is free, easy, and one of the best choices to reduce your risk of heart disease and related risk factors, while improving mental health and providing social connection,” he says.
The Federal Budget is due to be handed down in May.
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