Walk with Ease: why we're researching the community-based walking programme

23 December 2019
A walking group in the park.

The benefits of staying active, when it comes to our physical and mental healthare undisputedWunderstand that when you’re dealing with daily pain and fatigue, the thought of exercise can seem unachievable. And many people are afraid to exercise because they believe it may cause further damage to their joints. 

That’s why our researchers at the University of Aberdeen are exploring if a successful US community walking programme, designed specifically for people with arthritis, could be exported to the UK. 

We spoke to the lead researcher Dr Kathryn Martin about her motivations for bringing Walk with Ease to the UK and what the future holds for the programme.  

What inspired you to carry out research that would benefit people with arthritis?  

It goes back to my early childhood experiences. I had various family members who lived with arthritis and I saw first-hand the challenges they faced with work, hobbies or day to day activities.  

As an undergraduate, I had the opportunity to be a summer research student at the Multipurpose Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases Centre at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. It was here that I developed an interest in issues related to arthritis and joint pain. As I continued my studies, I became increasingly aware of the impact of arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions – on the individual and society.  

Most people I meet have a connection to arthritis and that’s why I feel passionate about my work.  

What motivated you to test if Walk with Ease could be effective in the UK, as it has been in the US?  

worked on evaluating the Arthritis Foundation’s programme in the US, when I was a PhD student, and noticed the tremendous impact the 6-week programme had on people’s health and well-being.  

When I moved to Aberdeen, I joined the local online walking forum to understand what walking activities were available to people with arthritis in the citysoon became aware that there wasn’t anything specific for this group of people.  

With my knowledge of the US programme and understanding the challenges that people with arthritis face when it comes to exercise, was keen to introduce the programme to the residents of Aberdeen.  I applied for a grant with Versus Arthritis and the rest is history!  

What have we learnt from Walk with Ease in the UK?  

We had 97 individuals who took part in the walking programme. 52 people undertook the instructor-led, group-based programme and the remaining 45 used the guidebook tcarry out the programme in self-directed manner. 

We carried out a survey and found that:  

  • 99% of people said they would recommend Walk with Ease to family or friends 
  • Participants reported being moderately better in their physical health and emotional well-being at the end of the six weeks.   

The qualitative findings reinforced the survey results and showed that individuals had increased confidence and motivation at the end of the programme, as they knew how to exercise properly. Their mindset about exercise had changeand now they could think about being more activeSo rather than driving to the shops, they chose to walk.  

The guidebook also proved supportive, with participants saying that the material helped them to focus on their goals and what they wanted to achieve.  

What is next for Walk with Ease?  

I think that there is wider scope for implementation in the UK. I would like to take the programme into remote and rural areas and see it being used by NHS Trusts or health boards.  

Our programme has shown that people enjoy the social aspect of walking and I think it needs to be with a group of people who understand what it’s like to live with arthritisand who understand that someone may need to walk slower on certain days.   

There is so much possibility with this programmin terms of the positive impact in can on people’s lives and I want to see people with arthritis being able to live their life to fullest.  

To find a health walk near you, visit www.pathsforall.org.uk