For Fun and Fitness, Join a Walking Club
by Maggie Spilner, who leads fitness walking tours through her company Walk for All Seasons
The news about walking just keeps getting better. Not only does it help you burn calories—about 100 per mile—and give your heart a workout, but a recent study at the University of Illinois suggests regular walking might even make you smarter by improving the connectivity of important brain circuits.
The American Heart Association suggests that you aim for at least 30 minutes of brisk walking five days a week. But getting off the couch and getting started can be a challenge. One solution? Join a walking club—or start your own. Participants in walking groups are always pleasantly surprised to learn that having a partner or group makes them walk more—and last longer. Get started with one of these options:
Ease into a neighborhood walking club
The most convenient way to get started and to stay on track is to seek out an existing group close to home. They typically meet several times a week at a designated time and place in the neighborhood, such as a YMCA or community center. The leader will encourage a healthy pace and will often lead you through post-walk stretches as well.
Get a mental break with a workplace walking group
This kind of group not only promotes fitness but also boosts workplace morale. If you're a working parent, there's another benefit: You don't have to schedule your exercise around your kids. If your workplace doesn't have a walking group, start one.
Burn more calories with a hiking club
Local recreation departments and college extended-education programs often run group hikes during the spring, summer and fall. It's a safe way to explore woodlands in your area and a great way to intensify your workout by tackling inclines you'd never find on a city street.
Super-charge your endurance with race walking
Once you've become a walking veteran—and if your doctor agrees it's a good idea—shift into high gear and learn the techniques that allow you to walk faster than you ever imagined. Visit racewalk.com to find groups, clinics and races in your area.
Secrets to Great Walking Groups
Embrace social networking
This can be like posting a sign in your neighborhood—except that the neighborhood is vast and many more people are likely to read and respond. Create a Facebook page where group members can post comments, pictures and walking sites and times. It's a great way to communicate quickly with your group and keep everyone in the loop. You can also set goals—and celebrate them!—online.
Find people who are motivated
You want to walk with people who are eager and responsive to challenges. Trying to motivate the unwilling will just drain the energy—and fun —out of your group. Find people who are either already walking or who are as gung-ho as you are to get started. Ask friends and family first. No luck? Ask around at work, at your health club, your supermarket or at community centers where people in your age range gather.
Match your skill level
Let prospective members know how often, how far and how fast you intend to walk. Just as with motivation, it's important to find partners who are well-matched. Walking with a group that's too fast for you can make the thrill wear off quickly and you risk humiliation and injury. Walking with a group that's too slow can be frustrating and prevent you from achieving your fitness goals.
From our sister publication, Diabetes Focus, Summer 2011