WALX Preston: The Lancashire ramblers helping people regain physical and mental fitness post-Covid

Covid has impacted countless people over the past two years. Beyond the tragic deaths, it's still the case that some are grappling with the deleterious physical effects of long Covid, with their breathing and fitness badly affected. Mentally, too, millions have naturally slipped into depression and fallen prey to increased anxiety brought on by the disease and lockdown.

By Jack Marshall, Reporter
Thursday, 27th January 2022, 4:55 am
WALX Preston led by Matt Gibbs (front in grey)
WALX Preston led by Matt Gibbs (front in grey)

But a walking group in Preston is doing all it can to help relieve the impacts felt by Covid, both physical and mental.

WALX Preston, led by Matt Gibbs, is geared towards getting people out and about in local green spaces so that they can start to feel more comfortable engaging with exercise again. Crucially, the motivation behind the group isn't purely exercise - as Matt says, WALX is about meeting up with friends and having a good time. Fitness is just a happy by-product.

Two people who have reaped the rewards from joining are Steph Ashton and Chandrika Hirani.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Steph (left) and a WALX team

Before she joined, Chandrika was grappling with depression after not having left the house for two years. Beginning to feel isolated and feeling her confidence ebb away, she and her husband Praxy started to look for local walking groups and came across WALX Preston. Steeling herself to go along, she was greeted by an immeasurably welcoming and friendly group.

"I kept telling myself I needed to get out there," says Chandrika. "I knew I had to take the first step [and] I'm so glad I did because it was wonderful. I've never met such lovely people and I've never been outside in nature so much. I loved it so much I was determined to book into as many walks as I could to make sure I kept it up.

"I met Di, one of the group walk leaders, and it was amazing," she adds. "She had so much energy and was an inspiration - when I got home, Praxy actually said 'what’s happened to you, you're like a different person'. I felt as if I could make a new friend on every walk, which is actually what has happened.

"I've gone from an unfit asthmatic who struggled to walk a mile to somebody who isn't breathless and even tackling hills with the support of the group," Chandrika continues. "This has literally changed my life! Walking is like a drug: I’m actually addicted to it and it makes me happier than I have been for a long time."

Chandrika (left) and her husband Praxy taking part in a WALX walk

Steph was herself suffering from long Covid before she joined WALX. Despite having previously been quite fit, she was now struggling to breathe and so joined WALX to improve matters, quickly becoming a regular rambler. She has now climbed Blencathra and even quit her job to be part of the team who helped her change so dramatically.

"I had no outdoor shoes, no suitable coat, and wouldn't have considered leaving the pavements to explore any further - two miles would seem like a really long walk even before I contracted Covid to be honest!" says Steph. "I've gone from gasping as I even attempted a slight incline to walking 27 miles in one go and climbing a mountain with the group's support.

"It was incredible," she adds, putting her success down to the welcoming nature of the group. "They're a bunch of amazing people who want to support and encourage each other. I've never felt part of something so positive, non-judgemental, inclusive, and rewarding."

Having lost a stone since joining, Steph also says that the past year has seen her make friends, discover a love for walking, and improve her mental and physical health. But another big thing she has noticed is her improved confidence and reduced anxiety - a point echoed by Chandrika.

Whether it's helping people with physical or mental travails, WALX Preston is changing lives and for Matt - who has been involved with the group for seven years - that was the name of the game all along.

For more information, please contact Matt on 07530 813 225 or via email at [email protected]