As the person coordinating the Connecting Actively to Nature (CAN) programme, Active Devon’s Tom Mack is passionate about the combined benefits of physical activity and immersion in nature. Research shows clearly how being active in nature can help people who are living with long-term health conditions. Tom chatted to Rosie, a participant in a CAN project run in partnership with Forestry England at Haldon Forest, about her recent diagnosis of early Parkinson’s Disease and her involvement in the project.
How did you find out about the CAN Project at Haldon Forest, and did you have any concerns or fears about joining the group?
“My partner saw the CAN project advertised on a local FB page and asked if I would consider doing it. It seemed like a good idea, I thought. I was pleased it was an over 55 group as I might have been more self-conscious if it had been for all ages and abilities. I felt I would be able to hold my own with people of similar age.”
What was it that made you want to be more active and join the group? What was your health and well-being like before you joined the group?
“I had recently been diagnosed with early Parkinson’s Disease and everything I read said that exercise was beneficial in slowing its progression of the disease. I also wanted to feel fitter and lose some weight. I walk my dog every day, but my aerobic fitness wasn’t great. Furthermore, my mood was often low and I didn’t have a lot of energy.”
What benefits have you noticed since joining the group? Have any of these surprised you?
“I have lost a substantial amount of weight, my diet has improved, and I feel fitter and more positive. I was surprised how quickly I got into the routine of regular exercise; it now just feels like a part of my routine. I was also surprised and delighted to make some new friends.”
Has joining the group had an effect on your life more generally? Relationships, work, other activities etc?
“During the lockdown, our group continued to exercise in pairs which kept me sane! Also, I’m delighted that my mood is better and I always feel better after a run. My balance, which was noticeably affected by Parkinson’s Disease, is much improved too. I have also met some fabulous people!”
Can you describe how you feel on the day of the activity? Before, during, after?
“I don’t always feel like getting up for a run, but I feel committed as we run as a group, so this spurs me on. During my run, I most often feel happy to be in such a beautiful place. Occasionally if it’s raining, I think ‘I must be mad!’ Afterwards, I do love the feeling of finishing, tiredness and satisfaction. The joke is, ‘nothing beats pressing finish on Strava’. The truth is I’ve never regretted getting up and running at Haldon as I always feel better afterwards. It helps that Forest Ranger Jon Waller and Coach Helen Lynch are fantastic, really supportive and motivational.”
Is there anything special about the fact that the group is based in the forest environment?
“Running in Haldon Forest is a bonus and I feel privileged to have this place on my doorstep. Trail running is so much more enjoyable than pounding pavements; I wish I’d discovered it years ago.”
What would you say to others who might be in a similar position as you were and considering joining a similar group, but may have fears or concerns?
“Give it a go! What do you have to lose? The Couch to 5K is gradual and you will be amazed how much improvement in fitness you’ll see after just a few weeks. Haldon is beautiful – you’ll love it!”
Do you feel activities like this should be prescribed for people with different health conditions?
“YES! Most definitely, I couldn’t recommend this idea more!”
Following her Couch to 5K training at Haldon, Rosie has now signed up to complete the virtual London marathon in October 2021. The training is going very well and most of her training runs are at Haldon Forest or Harcombe. Currently, she runs around 25 miles a week and her longest training run was 13 miles. As Rosie says: “Not bad for someone who wasn’t running at all 10 months ago!”
You can find out more about the CAN programme here, or you can email Tom Mack via the contact form.
Also, if you’re interested in activities at Haldon Forest, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by Tom Mack – Programmes Manager and delivery lead for the CAN programme at Active Devon.
Hear Tom Mack speak at the Why Sports Improving Health and Increasing Activity Conference 2022