GP says walking can be the difference between life and death at launch of £228,000 Norwich walking scheme

Rich Hoey, Dr William Bird and Dan Harris at the launch of "Walk Norwich" at The Forum.Photo by Sim

Rich Hoey, Dr William Bird and Dan Harris at the launch of "Walk Norwich" at The Forum.Photo by Simon Finlay. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

A bid to get the city walking has been officially launched, with a GP who was honoured by the Queen for efforts to encourage people to get physical saying it can be the difference between life and death.

The Walk Norwich project has been funded thanks to a £228,000 award to Norwich City Council from the Department of Health and will include an interactive walking challenge and health walks.

And Dr William Bird, who was made an MBE for his services to health and physical activity, said it was vital to get across the message that walking can be fun - and lengthen your life.

Dr Bird said: 'It's not about sport or swimming pools. Just walking and moving is probably the best thing you do to lengthen your life.

'How do you get people to change? You say, if you are inactive at the moment, that is not a good thing. Then you say that your life could be better and a lot healthier and you can help to do that.

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'Physical inactivity is the fourth highest cause of death worldwide and the UK is dreadful. Even in the United States they are better than us. Although our weight might not be as bad as them, our inactivity is worse.'

At a launch event at The Forum today, he said walking for just 15 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at night could prevent diseases and conditions such as cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure.

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One of the projects will start this Friday and see electronic tags fitted to Norwich lampposts so people can log how far they are walking or cycling.

Some 15,000 people are expected to take part in the Beat The Street interactive challenge, competing against each other to win prizes for walking or cycling the most.

Special cards will be made available at GP surgeries and in libraries. Every time somebody with a card passes one of the beat box devices installed on lampposts in Crome, Thorpe St Andrew and Heartsease, information will be logged.

Schools are set to go head to head with each other to clock up the most miles, with leaderboards published showing who has walked the furthest.

And Dr Bird, who comes from Reading, said schemes like that, which show people that walking can be fun, are key to getting people active.

Dr Bird said: 'That's why we are experimenting with Beat The Street. People just want to find the boxes and collect the points. Where we have done it elsewhere we have had people in care homes competing against each other!

'People might think it is frivolous to be spending money on something like that, but that's how people work. They want it to be fun.'

Other schemes include the recruitment of city walking champions to encourage people to walk to work, school or to the shops; city health walks and walk to school week.

The city council is running the initiatives in partnership with NHS Norwich Clinical Commissioning Group, Norfolk County Council Public Health and Active Norfolk.

Dan Harris, of national charity Living Streets, which is overseeing the project, said: 'Working to make Norwich a more walkable city is all about improving the quality of life for the people who live here.

'Our city already ranks third nationally for walk to work numbers. As we approach the 50th anniversary of London Street being the first fully pedestrianised street in the UK, I believe the Walk Norwich programme offers an opportunity to make Norwich a trail blazer for walking cities.'

Click here to find out how to sign up for the Beat The Streets scheme.

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