GPs should recommend patients with chronic conditions join a walking group to help them improve their overall health, according to a study by University of East Anglia researchers.
Walking groups offered people a wide range of mental and physical benefits, above and beyond what would be expected from the increased levels of physical activity involved, the team claimed.
The researchers carried out a meta-analysis on 42 studies of group walking, which included patients with various long-term conditions such as arthritis, dementia, diabetes, fibromyalgia, obesity/overweight, mental health problems and Parkinson’s disease.
The patients who joined walking groups had significant falls in blood pressure, resting heart rate, body fat, weight and total cholesterol, as well as improvements in lung power, overall physical functioning and general fitness – with effects bigger than those achieved in people walking alone. People who joined walking groups were also less depressed than before they took up walking.
Three-quarters of the participants stuck taking part in the group walks, and no notable side effects were reported in any of the studies, the researchers noted.
The team concluded: ‘This systematic review and meta-analysis provides evidence that outdoor walking groups have health benefits over and above making people more physically active.’
They added: ‘It may provide clinicians with evidence of a further effective option to recommend to those patients who would benefit from increasing moderate physical activity.’