Rediscover the benefits of a brisk walk

IN TUNE with the late '90s shift away from high-impact sports, and aware that health club fees prohibit sport for all, Birmingham City Council has developed the UK's first "Walking Fitness Trainers" course.

The initiative is not about training instructors to run circles round people huffing their way to a body beautiful in the gym. Rather, it is geared at encouraging everyone to take a daily hike.

Walking is an activity that used to keep our ancestors lean and mean, but has slipped by the wayside as a means of keeping fit. Birmingham is convinced that with tuition, people can not only get the basics right - putting one foot in front of the other - but can improve overall fitness and health.

The programme, due to be launched early next year and accredited by South Birmingham College, will train sports, leisure and health professionals to use innovative software developed in Finland. "We're putting together a complete training course so professionals can use it to motivate people to become healthier," said Derek Turner, South Birmingham College's European and Marketing Director. "Instructors will be trained to use the software in the context of the physiology of the body."

Those who successfully complete the course will work with local communities assessing individual fitness over a 20-minute walk - equivalent to 2km. The first trainees will be encouraging employers and parents to walk through Birmingham. The "measured-distance" basis of the test should, in the longer term, enable participants to assess how their own fitness has improved.

Once up and walking, Brum's training "package", which is being developed trans-nationally with the Irish and Spanish, will be franchised to Dublin and Barcelona. It is planned to market it to other cities in the UK and Europe.

Mr Turner said: "Walking has been identified by the World Health Organisation as one of the most effective forms of exercise - yet it's probably the least promoted. South Birmingham College is delighted to be involved in accrediting this fitness programme targeted specifically at an activity that is inexpensive and which most people can do."

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