Scottish Household Survey: A Single Step

This report, based on the Scottish Household Survey physical activity data, tells a story about how being more active changed a person's life.

Scottish Household Survey - A Single Step

Every journey begins with a single step. I heard of someone whose life was changed by becoming more active. I got the train through to Glasgow and met my storyteller there. He told me his story as we walked around one of the beautiful Glasgow parks counting his steps as we walked and talked. Here’s his story…

“I probably wasn’t very active because I had instilled in me a belief that I couldn’t be active due to my ill-health as a child. I was never an active child, and I was never a thin child either. As I got older I started to put on weight slowly but surely. I became someone weighing in at 354 pounds, which is just over 25 stone.

I’d become a social recluse. I would make excuses not to go to the social functions with family. I would basically not leave the house, and my appetite grew as my waistline grew. If things didn’t go right for me, I sought solace in food. I was not only obese, but I was totally sedentary. 

Then the moment came when I decided to change. I was at a Christmas party with work and they took a picture of me. I looked at it, and it dawned on me what I’d become, how I looked to others. I realised that I couldn’t continue in this way. 

So, I sat down and I said, right, I need to plan this. I would have to cut down on food. I also wanted to try activities that would suit myself. So, I started to go for short walks. Just taking the dog to the park. 

I started off with really short walks. I did it incrementally where I would maybe just walk half a lap of the park and then rest, and then walk back really. So, eventually I got a few weeks in. That’s the thing, you would be amazed at how quickly you make progress. Within a couple of weeks, I was doing a whole lap non-stop in the park every day, twice a day. 

This park, where we are walking now, is about two and a half minutes from my house, and it’s a wonderful park.

But, coming here you hear the birds chirping, and you’ve still got people about you as
well. People throwing sticks to their dogs. 

It’s kids laughing and running about. For me, that just gives you a sense of belonging. Also, it makes you smile, because there’s a lot of things happening in the world that aren’t nice, but generally when you come to a park on a nice night everybody is happy. 

You have to be more focused on the other benefits of being active. Community building, friendship, skill building, developing self-confidence.

There is also a spell when you start to get a bit of pride in yourself, me going for a walk in the park isn’t so much about calorie burning, it’s about me taking deep breaths and listening to the birds and hearing kids laugh.

I would get the bus to work. Then, I started off with getting off a bus stop later, and I got off a bus stop later because it was then downhill. As I started to walk more, I then got off the bus, a bus stop earlier, which then meant I was walking up hill. So, for me it was all about gradual progress, taking it one step at a time. 

Before you know it, I was walking everywhere, and I saw something in my work and it was the Paths for All Step Count Challenge The whole idea was to recruit a couple of friends and encourage each other to walk over an eight week period. The idea being as each week went on you would walk more steps.

I managed to recruit a few of my friends to join me.

I started to get the buzz for walking, and I would get off two stops earlier, and then it was three stops earlier, and then I said, if I’m going to get off three stops earlier, then well why not just walk to work? 

The only problem was my work was unfortunately seven miles away. So, I was getting up at six in the morning to walk seven miles into town. It was taking me about two hours, five days a week.

When I was in the car with my wife, I would work out where we were, when it was approximately a mile or two miles from the house, I would ask her to pull over and I would say to her, ‘I’ll walk the rest’. I was taking my dogs walks three or four times a day, they were loving it. I was chapping the door of my neighbours and asking if they wanted me to take their dogs to the park. People in the work started calling me the incredible shrinking man, because my weight just started to fall off me. 

 It wasn’t just the fact that I was losing weight, but I was walking taller, I was walking straighter, I was noticing the environment around me. I was seeing the buildings, I was seeing the people, I was changing my routes to go through parks and enjoy the greenery, the sounds, the smells. I realised that I wasn’t just improving my health, but I was improving my life. 

Then one day I woke up and a realised that I would get there faster if I ran. So, I found on the NHS website a couch to 5K programme. I started that and I basically would run to a lamppost, and then walk two, run a lamppost, walk two. Then I would start running two lampposts and walking one. Then I was running three lampposts and walking one, and eventually I was running the whole mile to the end.

I used to play a game called, beat the bus. What I would do is, I would leave the house, walk past the bus stop, and I would time it so the bus was just coming in, and I would set off. I always imagined, probably nobody even noticed, but I always imagined people in the bus looking out the window and see me running past, and then getting past it, and then the bus obviously getting past me, and then stopping at the lights, or stopping in traffic and me getting past it again. I always wonder if people noticed what I was doing. But it was such a fun experience to try and take on all the commuters every day.

Being active has changed my life so much, at this point I had lost about 170 pounds, I saw the benefits of it, I made new friends, I had more confidence, my skin was better, my breathing was better. Everything about me was better.

I became somebody who tried every single sport, because I wasn’t a talented sports person, but I really had a lot of fun.

I started noticing though that every time I went to a sports event it was the same people that I was seeing. The same folk that were getting all the benefits, the same folk that were enjoying it. But there were so many people who were unable or unwilling to give sport a chance.

Nobody believed that I could run a marathon and that drove me. I put in the training, and then in May 2014, I ran the Copenhagen marathon. Across the finishing line I was in pain and I got taken to the medical tents, but I still had a huge smile on my face.

I had ran the marathon, I thought, what do I do now? 

So, what I do now is, I just focus on trying to be active. It’s impossible to be constantly active, because we all have pressures, work, children, housework, shopping, lots of roles and responsibilities. But, what I’ve tried to do is I’ve tried to use my local environment. I’ll walk to work in the mornings, it’s three miles.

Being active as long as possible is something that slows ageing down, it gives you greater bone strength, you’re less likely to fall over, and if you do fall over, you’re more likely to be able to get back up. When I’m 70 – I think you have to realise that we aren’t here for a long time, so you want to try and make it as enjoyable and as much fun as possible. For my kids and grandchildren, I don’t want to be the old person that can’t do anything with them, I want to enjoy their lives as well.

Being active has brought me joy. What I wanted in life and what I want as I get older is I want to be able to climb trees with my kids. I want to be able to go on holiday and jump in a pool and swim with them. I want to go out on the bikes, go out in the park with them to play on the bikes. I want to be somebody where activity doesn’t simply add years to my life, but it adds life to my years. I want to have fun, and I want to enjoy life”.

What I’ve learned from listening to my story-tellers tale is that every journey begins with a single step. It takes courage and determination to continue a difficult journey and that it is important have an over-arching aim but also achievable goals along the way. Walking has many benefits but even more interesting to me were the unintended benefits which occurred along the journey such as how he developed confidence and friends along the way. Thanks for your honesty and courage in sharing your story.

Ill health and disability has a big impact on participation in physical activity. Those with a long-term limiting condition were less likely to be physically active (in 2018 39 per cent compared to 87 per cent of those with no condition). In 2018, three in ten adults (30 per cent) reported a long-term physical or mental health condition, a similar proportion as in 2014-2017 (28 per cent).

More than half of adults in 2018 (59 per cent) visited the outdoors at least once a week in the last year, an increase from 52 per cent in 2017. The 2018 figure is the highest percentage observed since the start of the time series in 2012.

Adults living in the most deprived areas were more likely not to have made any visits to the outdoors in the past 12 months (18 per cent) compared to those in the least deprived areas (five per cent) in 2018.

Most adults (65 per cent) lived within a five minute walk of their nearest area of greenspace, a similar proportion to 2017 and 2016. A smaller proportion of adults in deprived areas live within a five minute walk of their nearest greenspace compared to adults in the least deprived areas (58 per cent compared to 68 per cent).

Around one in five journeys in Scotland are made by foot. Nearly two-thirds of the journeys are made by car.

Active people are becoming more active – in 2018, 50 percent of people participated in physical activity or sport on more than 14 days of the last 28 days, up from 36 percent in 2007.

Participation in physical activity and sport including walking declines with age.

Seven out of ten people have done some walking in the last 4 weeks.



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