The Man Walk: an idea for our times

When local physiotherapist Mark Burns first started his early morning walking in the beginning of last year, he had no idea it would be the genesis of an international movement.

Within a couple of months, some mates joined in and they soon felt that their informal group was something that other men would benefit from.

“It only took us ten minutes to decide on our name and guiding principles: Walk, Talk and Support,” says Mark.

“We wanted to give men a free way of regularly connecting and communicating, while getting the physical benefits of exercise.

“We are a group of blokes having a walk and having a yarn. We talk absolute rubbish most of the time, but there is an opportunity to open up if you want.

“Many of us no longer have the network of regular sport, and we are too young for the Men’s Shed, so we’ve fallen through the cracks for social interaction outside of work and family.”

The concept really took off when an invitation to join a new group in Wollongong went viral on social media.

“We went from three locations – Kiama, Gerringong and Shell Cove – to 70 locations in six weeks,” says Mark.

These include Man Walks overseas, in England, Ireland, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand.

“A Parramatta bloke was walking on his own for a couple of weeks, and now he has ten people joining his Walk. It just happens.

“You don’t need to tell anyone you are coming or not coming, you don’t have to sign up or pay or do anything – you can just check on facebook for a group near you and go along when it suits.”

The only thing that is structured about the Man Walks is a regular meet-up time and location.

As an example, the Kiama group meets at Short Black at 5.45am, Monday to Friday, to grab a coffee to take on a 45 minute walk.

The Man Walk Founder, Mark Burns

“This timing suits a lot of people who are working and have young families,” says Mark.

“It’s really important that it doesn’t interfere with family time.”

He’d welcome other groups starting up in Kiama, at other times that suit a different demographic.

“We’ll make a facebook page for any new group to let people know when and where it is on.”

While stressing the movement isn’t run by mental health professionals, Mark says testamonials show the Walk has helped men through difficult times.

“We want to make it ok for men to ask for help if they need it.”

The group got early funding of $1000 from Kiama Council, and recently received $8000 from Kiama Rugby from the auction of Man Walk jerseys.

The money has funded a growing insurance bill and the development of a new website to help spread word about the Man Walk even further afield.

“New groups are starting all the time and we need the infrastructure to support them.

“We really want to keep it free to participate, so there are no barriers for anyone.”

He’d love to get public or private funding for an app to show how many steps are being taken towards a good health outcome each week.

“Some blokes are looking for connection, some are lonely, some are looking for a reason to get up and exercise.

“Whatever reason they come, they will be welcomed and supported.”

Mark says that the partners of the men on the Walks have been very supportive of the initiative.

“They can see what how much their blokes enjoy it and benefit from it.”

Details: More info at www.facebook.com/themanwalkwalktalksupport or www.themanwalk.com.au

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