AFTER more than a decade spent in desk jobs and stuck in front of a computer with a 20-a-day habit, Andy Robertson’s health was on a slippery slope.
But when he suffered a stroke six years ago, his life took a dramatic turn for the worst when he found himself lacking the confidence to even leave his flat, in Byker, Newcastle.
The experience destroyed his self-esteem and it was several weeks before he finally plucked up the courage to venture beyond the safety net of his home to visit a support group for stroke victims.
“The lady who ran the support group was involved with a walking group and she encouraged me to go along and get involved too,” says Andy, originally from Fife, in Scotland.
“After I had the stroke I had to stop smoking almost straight away, which put a strain on my weight, and I was recommended to do walking to keep me fit and keep my weight down.
“Health wise, it’s very good for me. It keeps my weight at a manageable level and keeps me mentally in tune too, because after I had a stroke I was reluctant to speak to anyone.
“It was several weeks before I got my confidence back to even go out of the house. I didn’t lack confidence before it happened, but the stroke knocked it all out of me,” he adds.
The 60-year-old had just started his own business as a typesetter when he began to feel unwell in 2004. He felt some numbness down his right arm, but thought it was just a trapped nerve.
He also became severely tired and thinking he had the flu, tried to sleep it off.
It was weeks later when he eventually went to see his GP. He was immediately referred to a specialist who diagnosed him as having had a stroke.
Andy, who is currently unemployed, said: “Probably in retrospect there were warning signs, but I didn’t even know I was having a stroke at the time. I didn’t know what was wrong.”
After visiting the support group, Andy started taking part in organised walks and enjoyed it so much he set up his own group in North Tyneside, under the national Walking for Health initiative.
“I was recommended to go to the stroke group on a Friday night, just to get me out of the house to do something and talk to somebody.
“I had spent a lot of time sitting at a desk and a couple of jobs I had involved sitting at computers, so I think the lack of exercise could have caused the stroke,” Andy says.
Andy started smoking at school, aged just 10 and by the time he settled in the North East in the early 1980s, was smoking between 20-30 cigarettes a day.
Having a stroke made him kick the habit and he became determined to improve his health and help others.
“The social aspect is just as important as the physical one, because as well as walking, you are talking. It’s nice and relaxing and it takes a lot of stress out of day-to-day living, which is probably one of the major benefits.
“And it’s the perfect exercise because it doesn’t cost you anything.
“It’s amazing how many people say they couldn’t manage a three-mile walk, but once you start talking to someone you’ve done four or five miles before you even know it,” he adds.
Andy believes walking has not only helped him to change his life and improve his fitness, but has also restored his confidence, giving him both a healthy body and mind.
“I’ve got problems with my knees and the doctors think it’s arthritis – and they say the best thing for me to do is exercise. When you are walking your tendons relax a bit and the pain lessens.
“It makes it a bit easier. You can walk pain off sometimes.
“I feel much better because it’s given me something to do. I feel like I have confidence which I never had after the stroke and I feel good about it.
“My health still goes up and down a lot, but it would be a lot worse if I wasn’t walking. I want to have that mobility, so I want to keep walking.”
Andy’s Walking for Health group is based at the Linskill Centre, in Linskill Terrace, North Shields.
He organises short health walks several times a week, plus a longer one on the third Saturday of every month.
To take part, or for more information, contact Andy on 07985 155734, or call into the Linskill Centre and pick up an information leaflet.