Karen had it all planned: she was going to take a year off. After 22 years as a primary school teacher, Karen was exhausted and finally decided to give up the late nights marking schoolwork and take a break. Then, suddenly, everything changed. Her elderly mother went into intensive care; when she came home, Karen became her full-time carer. The little time she now has for breaks is more precious than ever.
Although she enjoyed working with children, Karen had become fed up with the amount of extra time she had to put in. “I was working with five-year-olds but up till midnight marking their work. I loved the kids but not all the paperwork. So, I decided to have a change.”
Unfortunately, things didn’t go to plan. “I was going to have a year off but Mum ended up having to go into hospital,” says Karen. In the end, she only managed to take a month off.
Her mother was in hospital for two months and spent a week in intensive care. She lost all her mobility. “They didn’t think she’d survive the week,” Karen says, “but two-and-a-bit years later she’s still here and happy.”
Karen lives near Heathrow Airport with her mother and her brother, David. “Even with my teacher’s salary I couldn’t have bought a property myself,” she says. “And now I’m also the main carer for Mum.”
It’s no surprise then that Karen values the time she can get out for a walk. “Every evening I go out before dinner with my brother. We have a routine and that helps prioritise getting out.”
Even so, she finds she needs encouragement. “I was never particularly active as a child,” says Karen. “Mum and Dad couldn’t swim so they ensured we learned so we could swim at the seaside, but I don’t remember being active as a family; no long family walks, for example.”
“Five or six years ago I thought I’m putting on too much weight. My clothes size was getting bigger. I love eating and I don’t like diets.” However, Karen has discovered she does like walking. And she’s discovered the BetterPoints app can help motivate her to do it.
Karen heard about BetterPoints from her brother, David. “I gave up my job and needed something to keep me active and David suggested BetterPoints.”
“The app is easy to use. It keeps me motivated and encouraged,” she says. “It’s also easy to go for walks and there are a few local parks to go to, and I walk places rather than taking the car where possible, such as walking to the library.
“The rain doesn’t even stop me: I put an umbrella up and it’s great because there are not many people out in the rain so you don’t have to dodge people walking slowly on the pavement.”
Karen and David often walk together, where they can have a break from home and talk to each other. “We chat about creative projects and plan things. I also get to say what’s on my mind,” says Karen.
And she’s glad to get a bit of time without her mother: “Although we get on really well, we are in each other’s pockets so it’s nice to have a break from each other”.
Karen’s mother turns 80 this year. “She’s never been a very active person. It’s another thing that motivates me to stay active. Mum is in bed most of time, it requires two of us to take her out because she’s a large lady so too difficult for one person to manage.
“Then, because of being inactive, it’s harder to lose weight. Mum now has diabetes and arthritis in her knees so difficult for her to lose weight now. And she comes from a big large family: three Brothers all over six foot but over twenty stone.”
Over the last few years Karen herself has gradually lost weight. “I’ve lost about 2.5 stone slowly by changing my lifestyle,” she says.
“I’ve noticed being active keeps weight off. Walking is a way to be active without lots of equipment. I walk to the tube station, which is a mile away.” And she’s getting into the habit of walking instead of taking the car, where possible.
Last month, Karen took up BetterPoints’ challenge for National Walking Month. Every year, May is designated National Walking Month by the charity, Living Streets. This year, BetterPoints joined in by challenging people to walk for at least twenty minutes on five consecutive days, which were rewarded points that had a cash value and could be redeemed against vouchers for high street stores.
“I went out every day,” says Karen. “The challenge gave that extra oomph to go out.”