This week is #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek. The theme for 2021 is ‘Nature’. The Mental Health Foundation found that during the pandemic, millions of us turned to nature and 45% of us reported being in green spaces had been vital for our mental health. We have some powerful stories to share with you and you can join the conversation using the hashtag #ConnectWithNature. 

This Mental Health Awareness Week we hear from Rhianydd, Operational Health Manager of RCTCBC who speaks about the introduction of a walking group pilot as part of lockdown support for colleagues during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Starting lockdown 2020, as an occupational health team in Rhondda Cynon Taf Council we wanted to keep our staff members active as well as boosting their mental health during such uncertain times. We had identified that staff members had experienced

  • Reduced activity​
  • Increased stress​
  • Reduced coping mechanisms​
  • Increased weight​
  • Poor habits​
  • Increased musculoskeletal pain
  • More sedentary working

Alongside exercise programmes we developed a Walking Group which also served as a pilot study for us to potentially take the idea council-wide for all Council employees.

The pilot started by taking some baseline data such as number of steps walked in a week, weight, and waist circumference from our participants. The pilot group was asked to complete an initial subjective survey which measured their overall emotional and physical health. Using this anonymised data, alongside clinical experience from other studies everyone was given personalised targets for the week, which based on their progress was increased weekly to help them reach 10k steps. We had a weekly check in via videocall and a what’s app group was set up which included all the pilot study participants alongside the two clinicians running the study. As part of the weekly check ins we generally offered a theme for the week and encouraged the participants to brainstorm and problem solve independently and to aid each other. The what’s app group proved invaluable in allowing the participants to share ideas about different routes, sales on walking gear and photographs from recent walks. This had a great motivational effect on the participants.

The individual and overall results were encouraging and positive. Our results showed there was a net decrease in BMI, waist circumference and pain levels across the group. There was an improvement in physical functioning, energy levels, and general health. We did find some unexpected negative results but feel that this was due to the uncertainty around Christmas and  the worsening of the COVID restrictions and lockdown hence we are very keen to relaunch this initiative in the summer months.

The feedback we received for the group was fantastic and as both the physical and mental health benefits from just going for a simple walk were conclusive the plan for 2021 is to now repeat and roll the programme out on a larger scale.

“The group definitely worked for me (also for my family, my little one is doing exercise and it’s been good for my partner, he’s now getting out and has started running again, I’m pretty sure that me doing the walking has helped with this)”

“It was managed well e.g. on time, short, informal but general structure/key points to cover, also boundaries respected as at times it was emotional but support and empathy was displayed and then group re-focused. If there was an issue/barrier the group was encouraged to problem solve, use of group facilitators asking coaching style questions to solve these seemed most effective as it prompted group to overcome barriers 'How could you solve this?' 'What has everyone else done?' Anyone else had this issue, what did you find useful?' etc. WhatsApp group also managed well and appropriate and motivational.”

“very supportive and encouraging group.”

“The WhatsApp group was great as it was an extra reminder / nudge to get outside and move!”

“I thoroughly enjoyed being part of the group and missing the what’s app group if I’m honest.  I’m pleased to say I’m still walking and even walking more than ever now and I’m definitely seeing the benefit. “


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