Walkers in the Scottish Highlands

Walkers in the Scottish Highlands

Scotland must capitalise on the upcoming Commonwalth Games to ensure more of its people take part in healthy activity.

That’s the view of Ramblers’ Association Scotland president Dennis Canavan, who today gave his backing to calls to use the 2014 games – and the 2012 London Olympics – to boost the number of walkers in a country notorious for its low health standards.

Mr Canavan, a keen hillwalker, runner and horse rider, was speaking in support of a move by MSP Margo MacDonald aimed at securing National Lottery funding for Scottish sport. But, says Canavan, boosting grassroots physical activity is vital in a country where only a third of people take the recommended exercise.

He said: “This is a golden opportunity, not just to help our finest athletes, but to involve everyone in healthy exercise.

“I’d like to see everyone walking thirty minutes a day by 2014. All the evidence points to walking as being the best way of getting people more active. We need to work hard to promote the benefits of walking and we also need to put serious investment into developing path networks.

Dennis Canavan

Dennis Canavan

“I call on all politicians to walk the path to 2014 – from Holyrood to Westminster, all Scottish politicians should work together to ensure that the Scottish people become the fittest and healthiest in the world by 2014. Lottery funding has been crucial to the success of promoting walking programmes in England. Now it should be Scotland’s turn to see National Lottery funding used to help everyone to become more active.”

MacDonald’s motion to the Scottish Parliament calls on National Lottery bosses to make up the funding for cuts in support of community sport in Scotland. It will be debated tomorrow.

Ramblers’ Scotland is currently working with a number of other organisations, including the Scottish Government, to develop ideas to promote walking in the run-up to 2014.

In England, the Ramblers’ Association is using National Lottery funding in the Get Walking Keep Walking project in London and other major cities. The scheme promotes the benefits of walking through a free 12-week walking plan or with a DIY pack.

Recent studies show that only 35 per cent of the Scottish population reach the minimum levels of physical activity for good health – 30 minutes of moderate activity on most days of the week. Experts say today’s parents could be the first generation to outlive their children.

Obesity levels are the second highest in the western world, after the USA.

Proposals for new projects in the Ramblers’ Scotland legacy plan to follow the 2014 games aim to make it easier to fit walking into everyday life. They include the development of independent walking programmes for people living in deprived urban areas, using local community groups, as well as walking programmes for office employees and people involved in mental-health support groups.

A walking initiative targeting schools is recommended, possibly incorporating plans to offer every child a week of outdoor education per year.

Another idea is the development of a network of 2014 walking and cycling routes in and around cities, towns and villages in Scotland, graded at bronze, silver and gold level.

Research shows many people do not take part in physical activity because they do not know where to walk or cycle. Basic marked routes could start close to city, town and village centres or close to places easily accessible by public transport.

Signs should indicate the length of the route, including distance and time. One grand scheme would see Glasgow becoming the UK’s first ‘City of Walking’.

Dennis Canavan is a former MP and MSP. He was convenor of the Cross-Party Sports Group in the Scottish Parliament and chair of the Scottish Sports Group in the Westminster Parliament.

He said: “Every member of the Scottish Parliament, whatever their political views, should support Margo MacDonald’s motion. With the London Olympics in 2012 and the Glasgow games in 2014 we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to inspire everyone in Scotland to take up healthy exercise and to enjoy the outdoors.

“Scotland’s politicians must grasp the baton and back the bid for National Lottery funds.”