Having a walking buddy does more than make your trek entertaining. “Walking with a friend or group can help you through challenges,” says Dawn MacDonald Dene, who’s been coaching walking groups for three years and runs Walkingwithfriends.ca. “Sometimes, you look out the window and the weather’s terrible and it’s easy to say to yourself, ‘This is not a walking day,’” she says. “Having that little bit of obligation — knowing that other people are counting on you to show up — is important.”
In addition to making you more likely to stick to your exercise program, walking and talking can make you live longer. A growing body of research has shown that having close social bonds reduces your risk of dying of cardiovascular disease and cancer. It also boosts your immune system and lowers your stress level. And in a 2006 study from researchers in Australia, women who felt they had strong social support were more likely to eat better, exercise more, and get regular medical checkups.
And the benefits aren’t just for any kind of hanging out; working towards your fitness goals together is particularly helpful. In a recent study, researchers at the University of Michigan found that women who co-operated on an activity boosted their levels of progesterone, a hormone that reduces stress and anxiety and helps us form closer social bonds. What’s more, working together made them more willing to see beyond their own self-interest and act altruistically to help their partner out.
“It’s part of the strange way we live today: We’re very busy but often very isolated,” MacDonald Dene says. “We go to work and then we go home. Walking and talking with others can help.” She recommends finding several friends or an organized group to walk with, so that if your BFF is on vacation or gets the flu, it won’t derail your routine. So lace up, catch up and get going: It’s all good for you.