When it comes to walking regularly, The Beatles said it best: “You’ll get by with a little help from your friends.” And the experts agree with the Fab Four. “If we’re physically active with others, we’re more inclined to do it regularly,” says Judith Down, director of the Alberta Centre for Active Living.
Studies, too, have shown that not only do friends keep you moving, they can be good for your overall health, both physical and mental. One Harvard Medical School study found that even if your friend’s friend’s friend is happy, that can positively impact your own mental health. “A lot of work has been done around social support and the importance of friendships,” says Laurene Rehman, an associate professor in the Health and Human Performance department at Dalhousie University, in Halifax, who also notes that friends create fun, break tension and create “overall positive feelings and positive attitudes.” So with that in mind, here are some tips for starting your own walking club:
Calling all friends! The first thing you need to do to start a walking club is find some members. Cast your net wide: Look in your neighbourhood, at your local gym, in your family and at work. (You might even find work pals who’ll commit to walking during the lunch hour or mid-afternoon, if that’s most convenient for you.) If you’re having trouble finding athletically minded buddies, try posting a notice on your workplace bulletin board or on a community website (but always be cautious about providing personal information). Down also suggests looking for friends who have similar goals, whether it’s enjoying nature, losing weight or easing into a jogging or running routine.
Rally the troops
Once you’ve gathered a group of walkers, meet together to hash out the details: How often will you walk? How fast will you walk, and how much distance will you cover? When and where will you meet? This first meeting will also be a good time for the walkers to get to know each other and share common goals. When choosing your route, be adventurous, says Rehman. Is there a nature park nearby? Or a neighbourhood you’ve never explored? Or maybe your group would prefer to walk indoors, in a mall or through a museum? Mapping out your walking activities can be motivating, and it’ll keep you on track.
The best thing about walking is that all your group members really need is a good pair of shoes. (For Chatelaine.com’s tips on buying walking shoes, click here.) Don’t forget to bring a water bottle, and if you’re trying a new route, bring a map. Down also suggests packing an extra pair of clothes, or even just a T-shirt, if you’re walking during the workday.
Track your progress
Keep up the group’s momentum by recording your progress in a notebook: the distance walked, the time it took to walk a route, the difficulty level and whether the group enjoyed the walk. Each time you plot the new route, make sure that you add a bit more distance to the walk or raise its difficulty level. Another useful way of tracking your progress is to wear a pedometer, which records the number of steps you take. Revisit old routes as you become a more regular walker. Did you walk the same route faster? Can you cover more distance in the same amount of time? Does it feel easier than when you first started?
Build in rewards
So now you’ve scheduled regular dates with a group of eager walking buddies, and you’ve set goals to keep the group on track. Don’t forget to have some fun! While your goals will definitely keep you feeling challenged, says Rehman, recognizing the achievement of those goals will reinforce the reason you started walking in the first place. After a walk, gather together for a healthy lunch at a local café, or enjoy a latte at a coffee shop. And consider entering your group into a charity walk, such as the Canadian World Partnership Wal for international development, the Canadian Cancer Society’s annual Relay For Life or the AIDS Walk For Life. What better way to meet your own fitness goals, enjoy time with friends and raise money for a good cause.