Walking at 80 years young

Nigel Vardy By Nigel Vardy

We all know the physical and mental health benefits of spending time outside. And we all know someone older than us who maybe doesn't get enough fresh air. So take your parents, elderly neighbour or friend out with you on a short walk this Winter season.

Nigel and his 80-yr old Mum

There’s far too many surveys and reports regarding loneliness. It’s a huge issue amongst the elderly and one close to my own heart as in March this year I lost my Dad. His death was very sudden, leaving my 80-year-old mother living alone.

Though she is physically fit (in fact amazing for her age), macular degeneration affects her eyesight. My mum’s world is filled with speaking ghosts and she struggles to safely get around. Bright sunny days help, but the grey skies of winter are awful for her. Getting out on her own is difficult as walking is reduced to routes with Pelican Crossings, or with company, but getting outside is important.

Nigel's mum out walking

Spending long days alone is hard for anyone, but having a sense restricted makes them feel much longer and much lonelier. My Mum and Dad instilled a great love of the outdoors into me from a very young age and now at 50, I’m keeping that love alive for my Mum.

She still has walking boots and armed with a walking stick and my arm we get outside. We don’t climb big hills together anymore, but the local fields, canals and National Trust properties allow more accessible paths.

I may travel and climb across the world, but I’ve never moved more than a mile from where I grew up. This gives me an intimate knowledge of access arrangements to every footpath for miles around. Derbyshire Stiles aren’t much fun at 80, but there are plenty of woods, such as Shining Cliff where mum can get out.

The Cromford Canal, Kedleston Hall and Chatsworth Park are all ideal places with well surfaced and waymarked paths. Bridleways and Cycle paths are also good. A number of years ago I spent a long time stuck in a wheelchair. Mum and Dad pushed me for miles up the High Peak Trail...!

Engagement is everything for my Mum. If she feels left out, she feels lonely.

We need to feel wanted to be a functioning part of society and engaging with my Mum takes up a large part of my life. Getting outdoors and meeting other people is a huge part of this. Having different people to talk to and with is a great help, combined with fresh air and exercise. Though she may be in her 80th year, with help she can still walk around 4 miles and thoroughly enjoys being outside. She might not like the snow or rain too much these days but feeling the wind and listening to the rustling leaves puts a huge smile upon her face.

Walking to a café where you can sit outside allows more fresh air and conversation. My mum adores talking to people and I struggle to get home before dark some days...! All this interaction maintains my mums mental and physical health. This puts less burden on the health services and continues our strong family bonds. It can be exhausting for me as I’m still working and running my own life, but my Mum brought me up, cared for me through my childhood (and injuries) and is still an inspiration in my life.

Feeling the wind and listening to the rustling leaves puts a huge smile on her face

Nigel and his Mum taking a break on a bench

How can we help our ageing population get outside?

  • We must engage with them. People are not automatons. Surviving is pointless without thriving.
  • We all know the benefits of getting outside, so whatever disability, age or issue, there is always a way.
  • We need to plan out routes, check the weather and go. Choose routes where you have strong memories or stories to tell.
  • When people rely upon you, you need to be at your best.
  • Share your time, share your experience and share your love.
  • Share your smiles, share your laughter and make memories that will last forever.

Published 13/12/2019

Nigel Vardy By Nigel Vardy


Nigel is a frostbitten mountaineer who doesn't wasn't to die in an unused body.

Find out more about Nigel Vardy.