“When you start exploring the world with all your senses it comes alive for you”

Posted: Monday 13 May 2024

Whether it's walking, swimming, or gardening, getting active outdoors can be great for reducing stress and anxiety and improving our mental well-being.

A diagnosis of macular disease shouldn’t stand in the way of you enjoying outdoor hobbies. People find ways to adapt and stay active, despite sight loss.

During Mental Health Awareness Week we highlight just a few ways you can stay mentally and physically healthy with macular disease.

Feel the ground beneath your feet

A walk or a hike is just one way of tuning your senses with the great outdoors.

Amar Latif, who is visually impaired and was recently appointed president of the Ramblers charity, explained why rambling is for everyone.

“I love feeling the ground beneath my feet,” he said. “Smelling the wildflowers or the sheep and the cattle, hearing the wind whistling through the trees, feeling the sun on my back. When you start exploring the world with all your senses the world properly comes alive for you.”

He also recommends having a friend with you as a guide, someone who can explain the scenery around you or help to navigate any potential hazards. But, however you do it, Amar talks about the benefits of not letting sight loss hold you back.

He said: “When I realised I was blind at about the age of about 18 I remember thinking that my life was over. For the next few months I was depressed. But then my mindset changed. I realised that the world doesn’t wait for you, and we’ve only got one life. Now, people always say to me that I’m so positive all the time. But it’s not true. When you have a disability, it’s a challenge. Life presents you with problems every single day. But having a resilient, positive mindset is a great help.”

If you are concerned about your mobility, your GP may be able to advice local Health Walks for you. These are free, accessible short walks for people of all ages and abilities, focused on wellbeing, socialising and getting outside at your own pace. If you are based in Scotland, visit pathsforall.org.uk or call 01786 641851 to find Health Walks in your area.

Swimming with sight loss

Jenny, now in her 80s, was a swimming teacher and went on to become a medal winner in the pool. Despite living with macular disease, with “one eye completely useless” she hasn’t let this hold her back and has encouraged others with sight loss to find the benefits of being in the water.

She said: “There's nothing quite like being in water. It's a kind of freedom, and it supports the whole body. Swimming can be done at all ages, very few disabilities stop you going; it's not expensive, all you need is a costume, a towel and a pair of goggles and you're away.

“If you are a little bit down and you go for a swim, you totally forget whatever was bothering you while you’re in the water. Plus, there’s a tremendous social aspect to it!”

Communication is key and Jenny recommends bringing someone with you or asking a member of staff to show you around to get your bearings first. Judging distances may be tricky too, so it is advised to swim close to the pool edge or let a lifeguard know about your sight loss in advance.

If you wear glasses either keep them on if you prefer or place them close to the water’s edge. Many people also experience glare off the water too. Jenny said: “I would advise anybody to wear tinted goggles to prevent glare if they’re swimming outside. Inside I prefer clear ones because I can see much better than in darker goggles, but a lot of people do wear them in the pool too.”

For more advice and swimming tips, visit britishblindsport.org.uk or chat to your local swimming pool or club.

Green fingers

John Knight, 73, is determined not to give us his hobbies as he navigates life with dry age-related macular degeneration. When he is not painting, he enjoys walking and gardening.

But, he admits that it’s important to keep a sense of humour.

He said: “I'm still able to write and draw and walk the dog and do a bit of gardening. It's vital that you carry on as long as you can doing those things, although I do make mistakes.

“Last year I planted what I thought would be a load of tomatoes and they turned out to be basil!”

He added: “It's the message of being able to do something.

Being able to carry on doing something you've always enjoyed, even though you live with sight loss, it's very important. I think that eventually I know that I will lose the ability to do these things, so it's very important that I make the best of what I can see and do now.”

When it comes to gardening, the Macular Society has plenty of tips to ensure your sight loss needn’t get in the way of maintaining your green spaces.

Keeping active with the Macular Society

If you’re interested in staying active outdoors, find out the many different ways you can keep active with macular disease and raise funds to find a cure. From swimming to marathons and our very own Step Around the World challenge, there’s something for everyone.

Keep talking

If you are struggling with your sight loss, it can help to speak to a professional counsellor, who is trained to listen and talk about your feelings and help you find ways of dealing with them.

The Macular Society Counselling Service offers one-to-one emotional support to help you overcome the challenges of your macular disease journey. Use our online referral form or call the Helpline on 0300 3030 111.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2024 takes place from 13 to 19 May.