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Highland author tells how he walked back to health and happiness after cancer scare – with tongue-twisters along the way to help recovery

By Neil MacPhail

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Jeff pauses on a River Ness bridge while out walking.
Jeff pauses on a River Ness bridge while out walking.

AN inspirational story of how walking saved a Highland man’s life has been displayed in an online exhibition recognising people who champion the joy and benefits of everyday walking.

Jeff Zycinski found a love for walking 10 years ago after struggling with various health issues.

The author and former head of BBC Radio Scotland was diagnosed with mouth cancer and after nine hours of surgery and weeks in hospital, he returned to walking not only for his physical health, but to help him regain his speech.

During Jeff’s daily walks, he would practice tongue twister exercises given by a speech therapist to help his recovery.

Jeff’s story has been shared as part of Scotland’s walking charity Paths for All’s Humans of the Walk gallery showcasing the immense impact everyday walking can have on our health, wellbeing and the environment.

Jeff (58) said: “Walking completely changed my life. I was suffering from various health issues and went to the doctors for advice. It was recommended I take up walking and I’ve never looked back.

“I lost a lot of weight and improved my general wellbeing, and credit walking for saving my life.”

He added: “Fast forward a few years and I was diagnosed with mouth cancer, and after an intense recovery period I found myself leaving hospital in the middle of a pandemic, with reduced speech ability.

“I was determined not to let this hamper my quality of life, so I used walking to practice exercises given to me by an NHS therapist.

“My wife says I’m happier when I come back from a walk and it’s true. We should all make time to switch off from the world and enjoy the nature around us.”

Jeff is a trained health walk leader with Paths for All and works with Partnership for Wellbeing as charity manager responsible for community transport and group health walks.

He added: “The outdoors and nature has helped me become more creative. I listened to audio books during my walks and when they ran out I decided to write my own book Travels From My Twilight Zone.

“Since my initial health issues, I’ve become a walking advocate and would encourage people to think about taking it up.”

Images captured by photographer Rebecca Holmes and her team, bring to life nine individual stories of overcoming challenges, connecting to our natural world and feeling our best.

Paths for All is also a strong advocate for reducing car travel by walking or wheeling for short journeys as an important step towards tackling the climate emergency, as car journeys are responsible for 39 per cent of transport emissions.

Do you have a story from Ross-shire you would like to share? Email hector.mackenzie@hnmedia.co.uk

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