One step at a time
Daniel Van den Hoek knows the best way to feel healthier, and happier, is to take it one step at a time. Quite literally. He, and a team of ACU clinical exercise physiology students, are working with the community to change lives through the 10K Steps program.
“We wanted to set up a program that engaged people who were typically marginalised from exercise. People who might have a mental or physical health issue that would benefit from exercise, but who weren’t comfortable seeking out formal options,” he said.
And so, with a grant from 10,000 Steps, he set out to get the community walking.
Walking the talk
Daniel and the exercise and sports science team spread the word through letterbox drops and the community social pages. Soon they found they had a core team of eight walkers, plus many ‘drop-ins’ for the twice-weekly walks.
“The groups are led by me or one of the clinical exercise physiology students. During the walks, students can work one-on-one with participants and give them nutrition or exercise information to help manage their health conditions. It’s quite informal, but that’s when people are more likely to open up. It’s great for the walkers and it’s great for our students who get to have conversations with people with real health issues.
“Many participants report symptoms of depression when they start. Then they gain this social group who they can exercise with and share their experiences. They all report feeling better for it.
For our students to be able to work with somebody like that and see the effect just a single walking session can have, let alone walking regularly for 12 months, is pretty powerful,” he said.
"Many of our walkers are now at a stage where they can self-manage their exercise, but they still enjoy coming along and walking with the group. Some of them have even created their own walking group.”
Back to nature
Walkers aren’t just feeling positive impacts from the exercise and social interaction. They’re also enjoying getting into nature.
"When we started the program, we were aware that we had this wonderful campus space in Banyo that could, and should, be open to the whole community. So, our walks make the most of our beautiful campus area, walking within a two kilometre radius of the grounds for about an hour.
"There is a lot of evidence that blue and green spaces improve mental health, so just being out of the house and in an environment with sky, water, grass and trees is beneficial,” said Daniel.
Daniel’s inspiration to get people back on their feet came from his own health journey.
“During Year 12 I was in a serious car crash and ended up on life support for three days. I came through that and spent three months as an in-patient in a rehab facility. I got a lot of exposure to exercise physiology. Later, I realised this was a career path that would enable me to really help people, like I had been helped.
“It’s rewarding to take people who typically don’t want or enjoy exercise and find a way to help them want to do it.”
It’s not the only project on the go for ACU’s School of Behavioural and Health Science team in Brisbane. In 2016 they launched Kicking Goals Together, a sport for development program that helps people from refugee and migrant backgrounds gain the skills and confidence to complete their education or find work.
“Participants have the opportunity to attend a SkillUp job skills class, then play soccer, then attend an English skills class, all on our campus. It has really encouraged an increased interest, and confidence, in pursuing education opportunities,” Daniel said.
Daniel also worked with blind parasport athlete Jordan Carroll to host the inaugural Beehive to Belltower cycling race. The event saw Queensland’s fastest riders race against the clock up the steep and twisting driveway of the Banyo Campus. The time trial format enabled paracyclists to compete with riders of all abilities and for a share of the trophies.
As for the 10K Steps program, Daniel is now looking to expand to other groups and regions.
“We’re talking to an aged care facility nearby about starting up some walking groups for staff and residents, and our Strathfield Campus will hopefully be starting its own program soon.”
Dr Daniel Van den Hoek is a lecturer in clinical exercise physiology at ACU Brisbane. Passionate about helping keep others healthy? Explore our sports and exercise science degrees.