Walk this way - with or without your Fitbit

The first set to a healthier lifestyle is walking
The first set to a healthier lifestyle is walking

Aside from Furbys and Hatchimals, one of the most popular gifts at Christmas was the personal fitness tracker.

People of all ages could be seen sporting their brightly-coloured wristbands which monitor everything from steps taken to minutes slept.

But according to new data, it is the over 50s who have fully embraced the new trend of fitness tracking.

A survey by Saga Health Insurance revealed that more than 1.3 million over 50s now own health monitoring devices such as Fitbits, Apple watches and Jawbones to make sure they are doing enough exercise.

The poll of almost 9000 over 50s in the UK showed that the most common reasons people wear health devices were to motivate them to move more, to get fitter and to keep a closer eye on their health and weight.

The figures also revealed that more than a third also checked their blood pressure and BMI on a monthly basis.

Kevin McMullan, head of Saga Health Insurance, said: “It’s great to see so many over 50s monitoring their health regularly and keeping active.

“Most people need a friendly push, whether that’s from friends or family or a fitness tracker telling you get up and walk around more.

“The key to any exercise routine is to find activities you like doing as you’ll then be more likely to keep it up.

“Looking after your health should not be left too late. Keeping fit and looking after your body throughout life is the best way to help ensure an active and enriching life in retirement.”

Locally, it seems that the popularity of walking – with or without a fitbit – is also on the rise.

Get Walking Lanarkshire, which offers guided health walks across the area, said the number of older people taking part in events has increased recently.

Paula Hubens, the group’s health walks co-ordinator, said: “Walking is something that is easy to do, you don’t need any special equipment, just a pair of comfortable shoes and you can get going.

“We offer health walks across North and South Lanarkshire, walking every week for no longer than one hour.

“The walks are organised and planned so people don’t have to worry about where to go or worry about getting lost or injuring themselves if they are out on their own, so those barriers to walking are removed.”

Get Walking Lanarkshire started two years ago, offering a co-ordinated approach to health walks.

Led by a team of 66 volunteers, the walks attract more than 280 people every week. Held on smooth or tarmac surfaces, they are aimed at a wide age and client group – from people looking to get fit to those looking to make new friends.

“I can’t emphasis enough the social aspect,” said Paula.

“People who come on our walks may be fit in body but they may also feel isolated.

“The walks then become just as healthy for them as someone who is recovering from an operation or trying to improve their mobility.The feedback we get is good.

“People have made new friends and have gone on to meet up with people they first met on the walks.

“We also have people who say they feel much fitter as a result of taking part.

“They also get less puffed out when climbing stairs!

“Older people, perhaps those who have just retired, enjoy the walks. If they have had an office job previously, they can get much fitter with walking in a few months.”

Ramblers Scotland has also welcomed news that more people are walking.

Latest available figures from the Scottish Transport Survey 2015 paint a positive picture for walking – with consistent increases in the proportion of journeys made on foot.

Brendan Paddy, Ramblers Scotland director, said: “Regular physical activity can extend your life expectancy by up to nine years, so it’s really pleasing to see that more Scots are enjoying walking – including the many people using technology to track their walks and motivate them.

“Walking is a free, accessible and fun activity, which isn’t just great for our physical and mental health but also a wonderful way to meet new people.

“We believe that walking in a group has particular benefits too, with fellow walkers offering encouragement, support and sociable chats.

“With this in mind, I’d encourage people to consider joining one of our 55 local groups, which run more than 3500 walks across Scotland each year.”

For more details, visit www.northlanarkshire.gov.uk/getwalking or www.clydevalleyramblers.org.