In September 2014 Gezond Natuur Wandelen launched at six locations in greater Haarlem and Texel. To the end of 2016 we are aiming to offer 30 weekly walks in the provinces of Noord-Holland and Friesland. All guides are done by volunteers, who do free one-hour walks through green environments. The walks are primarily intended for people who want to move and for anyone who likes walking in a group. The foundation Gezond Natuur Wandelen Netherlands organizes these walks in close collaboration with local organizations in the fields of nature, hiking, health and welfare.
In England, Common Nature Walking for Health been a great success. Thousands of people participate every week. Scientific research has shown that this particularly benefits people who, by themselves, have less than half an hour a days of exercise. They live an average of 3 to 5 years longer and feel much better. They sleep better, have less stress, and, by walking with a group of people every week they feel less lonely. By getting more people to start moving they run a much lower risk of all kinds of chronic diseases. This not only concerns people who are obese (obesitas). Moving more than half an hour per day decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease by about 30%, type 2 diabetes and colon cancer by 40%, breast cancer by 30%, symptoms of depression by an average of 25%, and Alzheimer’s by 40%. Also, lung problems and musculoskeletal disorders are less common. Unimaginably high numbers! If you consider that the in Netherlands around half of the people move less than half an hour a day, so there is a lot of ground to gain! Research has also shown that these positive effects are even greater when in nature, or in a green environment at least, instead of moving inside.
Research by NIVEL Texel 2013 indicated that nearly half the visits by people from Texel to their GP had to do with disorders of the musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and depression.
But apart from all the positive effects on well-being and health, the walks are primarily just pure fun. Each walk is led by two volunteers. More than 30 trained volunteers are available for walks in and around Haarlem and on Texel. Participants do not have to register of give notice of attendance in advance and the walks are free. The group will take differences in walking tempo into account. In a few places the walk stops to talk about the nature that is encountered. Afterwards, those who want (at a reduced rates) can have a cup of coffee or tea with the group. Promoting social cohesion and reducing feelings of loneliness among participants are important effects of the hikes. We also hope to reach a new nature target group and thereby increase support for conservation.
Our goal is that within a few years, everyone in the Netherlands can participate with Gezond Natuur Wandelen at modest distance from home at least once a week.