As a result of the COVID-19 lockdown period in 2020, and the subsequent impact on mental health due to increased isolation, the registered carers with the Latrobe Community Health Service (LCHS) told us they needed to be more active - and keep connected. The development of walking groups to address the needs of carers has been positively received.
Carers have said that the benefit of connecting with others in similar situations has been the highlight. The ability to share stories with someone who is going through a similar experience of caring for a loved one is a very powerful way to support one’s mental health. Having the opportunity to debrief and connect with others while being active provides substantial benefit to both physical and mental health.
Initially the LCHS carers group event coordinator partnered with the Heart Foundation walking group local coordinator within the LCHS Health Promotion Team to develop a suitable program to address the needs of carers. Then, when lockdown restrictions eased in regional Victoria and small participant groups were able to reconvene, four walking groups were established.
Now LCHS volunteers, who have trained as walking group leaders, manage these walking groups. Each of the major towns in Latrobe City offer a weekly walking group for LCHS registered carers. This provides the carers with some respite time for themselves, opportunities to stay socially connected and to enjoy staying active together. The walking groups have also subsequently given participants the opportunity to debrief and support one another.
The Heart Foundation walking group local coordinator was able to provide additional support to the volunteer walk leaders, advising on the logistics of implementing the walk and assisting the volunteers to maintain group cohesion through motivation and support.
Implementing a walking group to increase active living not only benefits physical activity levels, it can also positively influence mental health. This may be particularly beneficial to vulnerable people who have indicated that the mental health benefits from the walking group is the core reason they attend.
Can you create more opportunities for groups to connect to improve physical and mental health?