Last week Radio 4 Woman’s Hour devoted an entire programme to loneliness. In this era of instant connection via social media platforms it seems that people have never felt more isolated. Of the 66 million people crammed onto this island of ours about 9 million report often or always feeling lonely.
In January 2018, in response to the Jo Cox Commission report on loneliness, a minister for loneliness was appointed (the first such minister in the world), a government strategy for tackling loneliness created, and multiple initiatives started - most notably Let’s Talk Loneliness. And yet people still feel haunted by their lack of meaningful connections.
Young or old, loneliness doesn’t discriminate. On the programme were young mums, students, carers, retired people, those in new cities, children, elderly, refugees – all people with no one to talk to or share their thoughts and experiences with.
What has this to do with Nordic walking you may ask, although I suspect you can see my direction of travel. Loneliness is a subjective experience of social isolation. Meeting others, feeling part of a community and forming friendships are all important factors in helping to ease loneliness. It is impossible for me to count the number of friendships that have been formed through our club. Just last weekend Jill sent us an email entitled ‘lunch with friends’ with the message ‘Christine, Sue, Celia, Gill and Trudi, not only getting the outdoor air and well-being but meeting new friends as well’.
Jill has hit the nail on the head. When I first started out, I thought Nordic walking was all about getting fitter, but I soon learned that it is far more than that. Mental health and wellbeing are central and it’s not just through being outdoors – meeting others and forming friendships is key. Friends support and encourage. They are there to listen, make you feel valued and boost self-esteem. It’s not just our emotional health that benefits from friendships. In her book Friendship the American science journalist Lydia Denworth highlights the latest research on how friendship bonds strengthen our hearts, immune systems and sleep patterns too.
On every single walk I lead there are groups of friends who initially met through Nordic walking – and I know that this is the case on every one of the thirty-two weekly walks we run. That’s a lot of friendships. The minister for loneliness would do well to include Nordic walking in the government's strategy.