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The government is seriously troubled about the state of the nation’s waistline and activity levels.  This year alone it has published five papers aimed at tackling obesity and encouraging people to be more active. 

It is not surprising.  According to NICE (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence), a quarter of adults in England are now obese. Physical inactivity is the fourth largest cause of disease and disability in the UK and is responsible for 1 in 6 deaths in the UK.  This makes it as dangerous as smoking according to Public Health England.  Startlingly, the government’s olympic legacy document Moving more, living more, puts the direct and indirect cost of physical inactivity in the UK at £20 billion a year.

What to do?  Well, the government wants more of us to be taking at least 2 hours of exercise every week.  By doing this, statistics show that we reduce our risk of a whole raft of medical conditions including diabetes, breast cancer, dementia, obesity and depression. 

It is not just about prevention. Physical activity plays a key role in recovery too. Sit up and take note of what Professor Sir Mike Richards, the former National Cancer Director (and current Chief Inspector of Hospitals), said in a Times interview last year.  “Taking regular exercise after breast cancer is just about as effective as chemotherapy – it’s of that magnitude”.

Being part of an organisation like Bristol Nordic Walking is a fantastic way of getting, and keeping, fit.  Our recent survey showed how important this is to you – with over 70% of you putting ‘getting fitter’ as the thing you enjoy most about our walks. Not only is it good for our health but we have a lot of laughs and have forged some firm friendships along the way.  Importantly, Nordic walking is something we can do right into old age.  It helps keep our bones strong; encourages excellent posture; improves our balance; burns more calories than regular walking; gives a good cardiovascular workout; decreases neck and shoulder tension; and boosts back health.  In short, it’s a total body workout!

So we should all be proud of ourselves.  We take our health seriously and have done something about it.  Most of you walk twice a week with us.  This is just half an hour shy of the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines on physical activity and I expect you make the extra 30 minutes up elsewhere.  It is at this stage that I should probably plug the benefits of joining our Bristol Nordic Walking membership.  It is an excellent way of making sure that you prioritise exercise.  Apart from anything else, if you’ve paid for it there is an added incentive to get out there and do it!

Finally, as we draw towards the end of the year, it is a good time to reflect on how each of us, personally, have improved our fitness.  For some, the Nordic walking Challenge Event yesterday in Lydiard Park was a real benchmark of achievement.  Many of you threw yourselves well out of your comfort zone and did something yesterday that, a year ago, you probably never thought possible.  So congratulations and very well done to Karin, Linda, Steve, Beate, Mina, Deirdre, Sue, Philippa, Jim, Lucy and Marcus. You are real ambassadors for fitness and for Bristol Nordic Walking and an inspiration to us all.  Next year there will be two more Nordic walking Challenge Events near us – in Cardiff and in Swindon again.  Why not make a commitment to yourself today to take part in one of them – now that’s a challenge!