Before gyms, before cycling, before swimming in a swimming pool – there was walking.
Despite the huge range of other options for physical activity, walking remains a popular choice for New Zealanders of all ages. And why not? It’s cheap, you can do it almost anywhere, it’s suitable for all levels of fitness, and you can do it by yourself or in small or large groups.
Around the country, walking groups developed especially for seniors also make this exercise a highly social occasion.
We spoke to a couple of keen walkers from Invercargill, part of the Sport Southland’s Active Walkers KiwiSeniors group, who shared their experiences of walking around Southland (and sometimes even further afield).
The group is pictured above on one of their walks to Jack's Blowhole.
Choosing the long option
Bev Dixon, 87, first joined the ranks of organised walkers in her early 50s when she became part of a ladies’ group that went walking once a week.
She still belongs to her ladies’ group but also walks once a week with the Active Walkers KiwiSeniors group.
“After my husband had a stroke I remember thinking to myself, “the life you are going to have from now on is what you make of it.”
So, as well as her two walking groups, she goes to line dancing, and, through her church, volunteers to help others who are not coping so well.
“The KiwiSeniors group is a wonderful one to join. We go to places that you just couldn’t go to on your own. And there’s lots of laughs.”
Every Thursday, the group leave Stadium Southland for a different walk. Once they’re at the starting point participants choose the short (1.5-3km), medium (4-6km) or long (more than 7km) option.
Bev, (pictured right leading in the green jacket) chuckles when asked which group she opts for.
She always chooses the longest option, although walking might not be the best description for what she does.
“Three of us have a habit of taking off in front. I don’t really walk. I stride. I notice that a lot of the others take two to my one.”
During a stressful period when she was nursing her late husband, she had a heart attack, so she now gets a medical check-up every three months.
“My doctor now says to me, ‘whatever you’re doing, just keep on doing it’.”
Exploring the unknown
Arthur Henderson (on the right) joined Active Walkers KiwiSeniors about four years ago.
“I’ve always been a keen tramper, but it got more difficult carrying the heavy packs and all that.
For Arthur, 75, it’s a chance to go to a range of ‘wonderful’ places around the region that he’s never been to before.
“There’ve been lots of highlights. Cosy Nook to Monkey Island, and part of the Otago Rail Trail. We go all sorts of places. Sometimes we’ll be going through the bush and sometimes it will be hills on farm tracks. It caters for all tastes really.
“There’s a planning meeting every three months and different people come up with ideas. People who have been on a particular walk will recommend it. If they’ve enjoyed it, it’s likely others will enjoy it as well.
“It’s also a great way to meet new people. You can always find someone to talk to while you’re walking.”
Each person participating in the walk contributes to the bus expenses, which vary depending on how far away the walk is, and the costs are kept as low as possible by working around school bus timetabling. (Costs start at $6)
While Arthur, a semi-retired farmer, has always maintained an active lifestyle, he’s quick to point out the sense of encouraging older New Zealanders to be fitter.
“We have got to keep people out of hospital and the easiest way to do that is to keep people fit and active. I’m a big fan of that,” he says.
Active Walkers KiwiSeniors
Sport Southland’s Ann Robbie, who runs the Active Walkers KiwiSeniors, says the group will be celebrating its 25th anniversary next year.
“Currently we have 134 members in the Invercargill group, of which 60-70 go away each week for their walk.
Ann says having the three different length options is an important part of the group’s success
“Walkers can choose on the day which they want to take part in. It might depend on the weather, how they slept, wind, medical conditions, hills or underfoot conditions, and general wellbeing.
“Not only is this an active walking group but also a superb way of building confidence and meeting new people as well as getting out and about and enjoying the great walks in safety.”
For information about Sport Southland and its programme for seniors visit its website.
Walking New Zealand has a list of walking groups, including some specifically for seniors, as well as a list of walking events around the country.
Some regional sports trusts around the country also run walking groups for seniors, or may know of groups in your region.