Walking is easy, right? And so is popping to the local park to play tennis, bowls or for a general run around with friends or the family. Yet, sadly, too many of us find excuses for being active in our local green spaces, let alone further afield in the nearby countryside.
Surveys reveal that many people say they do not have enough time to exercise and that they have no idea what activities are available to them in local parks.
But now there can be no more excuses thanks to a new initiative called ParkLives. It’s designed to get city residents active and socialising in their community parks.
There are six cites across the UK that have the ParkLives project and Glasgow is the only one in Scotland (so far). In Glasgow, 10 parks and golf courses, including Bellahouston, Kelvingrove, Springburn, Victoria and Queen’s, are taking part in the scheme, which is delivered by Glasgow Life (in partnership with Coca-Cola Great Britain).
What’s more, all the activities are free and led by local instructors.
Activities include more recognisable names such as Family Tennis, Park Golf, Family Fun Golf, Family Bowls, Let’s Play Bowls, Powerwalking and Come and Try Football.
Other #ParkLives sessions include:
Baby Beatz: For zero to six-year-olds. Pack a picnic and enjoy music from the 80s, 90s, 00s and today. This is a chance to boogie with your baby and help them strengthen their little legs in a session that’s fun for both of you.
Buggy Bootcamp: Take your baby and buggy along to an all-round fitness session especially for parents and carers. It’s an ideal postnatal exercise with a focus on mobility, strength, stamina and cardio fitness.
Baby Ballet: This is a fun, award-winning pre-school dance concept for girls and boys from six months to six years. The sessions allow babies, toddlers and young children to enjoy the physical and social benefits of ballet, song and dance in a safe, caring, positive and informal environment
Play in the Park: Families can enjoy trying a wide range of play activities and sports.
Pop Up Yl Multisport: This session offers an urban sports class for youngsters aged 14 to 18. Try dance, cycling, street sport and more.
Play Your Cardio Right: A fun-filled fitness class based on the TV show Play Your Cards Right. The unique fitness workout that will keep you on your toes.
Taking part: Powerwalking in Victoria Park
I was a little nervous about the Thursday evening session in Victoria Park, close to the Jordanhill enclave of Glasgow. I am not a fan of the odd-looking all-arms-legs-and-thrusting-forward type walking that I associate with “power walking”.
In addition, I knew the group had been meeting already for a few weeks and I expected to be a bit out of my depth.
So, I took Wispa the Wonder Whippet as my speedy sidekick (I figured that she would offer a way in for conversations with the others if nothing else) and an open mind.
As it turned out I could not have been more welcomed at this hour-long walking – and chatting – session. And, even more thankfully, there was not a single sign of a souped-up power walk.
Instead, the Powerwalking outing was focused on simply walking fast. The speed was well within my capabilities and within the small group there quickly formed two groups of walkers of different paces.
After explaining the format of the session and the focus of the outing, Natalie, the enthusiastic Glasgow Life coach, led the group on a warm-up stroll through leafy and sunny Victoria Park.
The sun was shining – it has shined on this group every Thursday evening for weeks, apparently – and plenty of other people were enjoying a warm evening for play, running and walking.
At first the pace was easy and then it started to slightly increase. After about 10 minutes we stopped for some dynamic stretches before setting off for the power walk proper.
The group follows a similar route each week taking in most of Victoria Park – it’s a beautiful park if you haven’t been – including the large pond, flower gardens, grassy areas and even a hilly woodlands stretch.
Because the route is set, everyone can go at a pace that suits them. While Natalie walked with Lilian and Ann, Will and I settled into a similar but faster pace of walking and headed off ahead.
Will and I walked briskly but not so fast that we couldn’t easily chat. I found out that he usually exercises at the gym but decided to break the routine with a “nice walk in the park”. He doesn’t live too far from Victoria Park and sometimes walks to the park, does the session and gets the bus home.
Will said: “I like being in the fresh air and it makes a change to exercise with people, rather than on my own at the gym. I have met new people and I think the format of the hour session is good.”
After one lap of the park, I turned around and joined the other walkers. Natalie walked on to keep Will company. She told me: “We usually have quite a few more people at the session but it’s still the holiday season. The core group is around six people with others dropping in and out each week.”
She mentioned one of the regulars, Irene, who happened to be on holiday. Natalie said: “Irene has shown amazing progress in our group. She is following a Weight Watchers plan and also walking to lose weight. So far she has shed six stones and she is so determined when you see her walking.
“She is Will’s main walking companion at this session and it has been great to see how people have really benefitted from meeting up and walking each week.”
Ann agreed. She said: “I think that if you know there is something arranged at a set time each week you are more likely to make the effort to go along.
“I have also joined the Glasgow Jogging network sessions and this walking group gives me something extra each week. I have enjoyed meeting new people and I find the walks give me a real burst of energy and motivation.”
Lilian, who is a volunteer Health Walk Leader, was keen to improve her walking speed. She said: “The Health Walks are more leisurely and I want to be able to walk faster to improve my fitness and to look after myself as I grow older.
“I have seen an improvement in my walking pace and I very much enjoy the weekly get-togethers with new people. I think the free sessions are a great idea.”
Will also underlines that people should not be put off by the name of the group. He said: “Like you, I was worried about the Power Walking name. I thought I’d give it one go and if I didn’t like it I’d not bother again.
“It turns out that Power Walking at this session is brisk walking with purpose and that suits me. If people want to properly Powerwalk then there’s nothing to stop them it’s isn’t that most people here want brisk walking and that’s how it has turned out. I’d recommend the sessions to all types of people and all levels of fitness.”
Certainly, I have long been a fan of fitness meet-up groups and this one was like others I have been to. It was good to meet new people and walking with others is much more fun than solo. The hour whizzed by and I returned home feeling up-beat and energised. Wispa enjoyed a drink of water and then curled up in her bed for a snooze.
I only hope that more people hear about the ParkLives programme and go along to try one of the many different activities on offer. Most city people live within walking or cycling distance of Glasgow’s parks and could easily take advantage of the free sessions. There are so many to try. See ParkLives in Glasgow
Other walking sessions take place at Bellahouston Park and Queen’s Park.
A word from Glasgow Life
Glasgow Life is delivering the ParkLives programme. Chair of Glasgow Life and Depute Leader of Glasgow City Council and, Councillor Archie Graham, said: “We know that sport can change lives and we are determined to do all we can to encourage as many people as possible to take up sport and to keep fit. ParkLives will help us to do just that with the hundreds of free sessions on offer.
“There is something for all ages, from families and young people to senior citizens, with a particular focus on those who may not have taken part in any fitness related activity for some time. And with all activities completely free there is no reason for people not to get involved.”