Health and Wellbeing

In the midst of a global health pandemic, equity of access to the outdoors, in order to support our physical and mental wellbeing, has never been more important. 

The outdoors offers us a place to walk, run, or just sit quietly. A place where life moves more slowly and, surrounded by nature, we can be free. As part of Every Mile Matters, we want to tell you more about how this 630-mile-long National Trail helps millions of people maintain a happy and healthy lifestyle, and why it needs your help. We also want to share with you incredible first-hand stories from people who have benefitted mentally or phsyically from the work we do to look after the Trail. If you use and love the South West Coast Path, please consider making a donation no matter how small to allow us to continue our work. 

Photo: Smiles at Wembury, Devon by Vickie Moss Photography

Walking outdoors is the best medicine

Research shows, spending time outdoors in nature has huge potential to improve our physical and mental health, reducing stress and anxiety, lowering blood pressure, increasing cardio-vascular health and improving mood. It was Hippocrates who coined the phrase ‘Walking is the best medicine’ well over two thousand years ago, yet it's as true today as it was back then. For the majority of people, walking is the most accessible physical activity there is, it’s free, convenient and requires no special training or equipment. Research also shows there are many physical and mental health benefits that come from walking, spending time in green spaces and next to water – three things the South West Coast Path offers. However, we’re not walking enough and physical inactivity in the UK could be costing the economy as much as £20 billion[1] a year.

The physical health benefits of walking:

  • Improves heart health, lung capacity and circulation
  • Reduces the risk of chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease and dementia
  • Improves flexibility and strengthens joints, bones and muscle
  • Boosts the immune system and improves digestion
  • Aids weight loss

The mental health benefits of walking:

  • Improves self-esteem and mood
  • Reduces anxiety, stress and fatigue
  • Helps improve sleep quality
  • Reduces risk of depression

Caroline's story 

In 2008, Caroline was in a devastating motor-bike accident. Not only did she lose her partner, she also lost her leg and part of her arm – changing her life forever. Despite everything, Caroline was determined to walk again and after seven years, defied the belief of her doctors and even herself when she walked the 630 miles of the South West Coast Path.

How does our environment support the NHS 

Protected landscapes like the South West Coast Path are part of what we like to call the Natural Health Service. The Path is a destination for millions of people looking to stay active, exercise, relax, be mindful, connect with nature – and generally reap the health benefits it offers. And the wider advantage of this, is that there is less strain on the NHS.

It’s estimated that walking National Trails could save the NHS £167 million[2] in health benefits every year. The South West Coast Path alone could help save the NHS over £40 million a year - that’s £63,000 for every mile of the 630-mile route. Walking coastal paths has also led to fewer premature deaths, a benefit valued at £19 million[3] and provides recreational wellbeing valued at £1.8 billion.

Yet government funding to care for our National Trails is insufficient and since 2010, budgets have been cut by around 30%. The cost of looking after the Path has also risen during this time, to £1,400 per mile, making it even more challenging to keep it open and accessible to the millions of people who use it.

What kind of work do we undertake to support the people's health and wellbeing?

Discover some of our current projects benefiting people from all walks of life:

  

References

[1] Walking for Health Report: Walking Works
[2] National Trails Annual Report
[3] Natural England Report: The economic and health impacts of walking on English coastal paths: A baseline for future evaluation