Being active is the secret to staying healthy, and walking is one of the easiest and least expensive ways to get moving. So how about starting a walking group? It’s a great way to get exercise into your day and build stronger relationships with family, neighbors or co-workers.
Simply walking 30 minutes every day can have a great impact on health. Frequent, brisk walks can boost your brain power, make you more productive and lower health care costs by reducing a wide range of health risks.This project lays out a plan to gather people or reach out to family, neighbors, friends, or co-workers. By planning out walks and encouraging each other, a walking group can have a huge impact on everyone involved.
It varies. It may take a few days or longer to recruit members and agree upon a schedule, but once all the details are set and everyone is on board, all it takes is 30 minutes a few times a week.
Walking is one of the safest forms of exercise. Still, if any group members have concerns, they should check with their doctor before starting. They can also use this easy screening tool to help determine if they’re good to go: http://easyforyou.info/.
The Basic Steps
If starting a walking group doesn’t sound like an act of service to you, think again. Your efforts can have a tremendous impact on the health and well-being of your community. Alternatively, you may choose to keep your act of service small by asking a friend or neighbor to walk with you on a regular basis. Even this one simple act of caring can make a world of difference. So, don’t wait – get walking!
Step 1: IDENTIFY A LOCAL PARTNER
Call community-based organizations near you to see if they would be interested in joining forces to help you start a walking group. These groups are already doing good work in your community and might have additional ideas and resources for you. Take advantage of our handy "Tips for Finding Local Partners” (below).
Step 2: "CALLING ALL WALKERS"
Promote your group to family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. Try posting fliers at your local YMCA, library, senior center, health club or place of worship. A good group can provide support and help keep everyone on track.
Step 3: KICK IT OFF
A kick-off meeting is a great way to get the group together so everyone can meet. You can have the meeting at your house or at a public place, like a local park or coffee shop. At the kick off, make a plan. Decide when and where your group will meet, how many days a week and how long you will walk, then pick a start date! You should also set up a system to contact one another, maybe a phone tree or an e-mail list, so that you can all stay informed and in touch.
Step 4: SET GOALS
Encourage members to set goals for themselves and for the team. Maybe suggest increasing the amount of time you walk each week or changing routes to include more difficult terrain. Consider goal setting programs such as Get Fit on Route 66.
Step 5: START WALKING
It’s as simple as that. But be sure you remind your team members by phone or e-mail the night before your first walk. And you may also want to remind people to dress for the weather, wear good walking shoes and bring water.
Step 6: CELEBRATE YOUR SUCCESS!
When your team meets its goals, celebrate by doing something special. This can be as simple as grabbing a cup of coffee at a cafe after a morning walk or something a bit bigger like hosting a pot luck dinner. Be sure to thank your team members for participating and encourage them to bring a friend next time.
Guidelines for Walks
Set-up some simple guidelines for your walk, so everyone is on the same page. Ask your team members:
- Will you walk if it’s raining or snowing?
- Does the group want to walk both indoors and outdoors?
- Do you want to ban cell phones and headphones during walks?
- Do you want to have regular meetings?
- Will members call one another if someone can’t make it, or will the group just walk with whoever shows up?
Proper Walking Technique
Follow these easy rules for perfect walking form:
- Swing your arms
- Hold your chest high
- Make sure your stomach is tucked in
- Keep your back straight
- Roll from heel to toe on both feet
One way to keep yourself and group members motivated is to keep it fun and inspiring by:
- Giving your group a name and having t-shirts/visors made
- Entering charity walkathons, community parades or 5k races together
- Inviting a local speaker to talk about fitness and healthy eating
- Finding and sharing articles or websites on walking
- Recording the team’s progress on a log
- Setting weight-loss goals
- Sharing success stories
- Recognizing group members for how their health has improved
- Starting a newsletter that chronicles your adventures
- Having coffee or lunch after your walks
- Organizing a community walk to inspire others to join in
Tips for Finding Local Partners
If you want to start a walking group, call your local senior center, YMCA, YWCA, community center or parks and recreation department to find out if they already have something started, or would be willing to partner with you.
You can use the script below to guide your conversation:
Hi, my name is__________________, and I’m interested in starting a walking group program in our community.
- Is there a way I can promote the walking group at your center?
- Are there existing groups of seniors or others I could reach out to? And what would be the best way to do that?
- If we wanted to use your facility as a meeting place for a kickoff meeting, who would I call to schedule it?
- Do you know any other community organizations that may be interested in promoting the walking group?
If you can’t find a local organization to partner with, don’t be discouraged! Just ask your friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers to help you start a walking group.
Setting your Goals
Setting simple goals is a great way to keep your walking group motivated and on track. You and your group members should:
Take some time to think. Encourage yourself and other group members to think about short-term and long-term goals, taking into consideration time availability and health concerns.
Write down goals. Goals can be as simple as attending every walking meet-up for ten weeks or something bigger, like walking a 5k charity event in a few months.
Tell friends and family. Having support from those important to you will make sticking to your goals easier, and more rewarding.
Track progress. You and your fellow group members should write down when you walked, how long, the number of steps displayed on your pedometer (if you have one). This will bring your progress to life, and help you determine what’s working for you and what isn’t. Then you can adjust your plan to help you reach your goals. Download our sample progress tracker in the ‘Supplemental Materials & Information’ section below.
Other helpful resources
AARP Get Fit on Route 66 - www.getfitonroute66.com
When you register for this free adventure, you embark on a nostalgic virtual journey down the legendary highway –The Main Street of America – made famous in books, movies and on TV.
Rails-To-Trails - www.traillink.com
This is a great website for finding walking routes and trails in your area.
The Sierra Club - www.sierraclub.org
The Sierra Club in your area may host outings such as day hikes, bird-watching trips, and canal walks that your walking group could sign up for.
The SilverSneakers® FitnessProgram - www.silversneakers.com
SilverSneakers is an innovative health, exercise and wellness program helping older adults live healthy, active lifestyles. Get fit, have fun, make friends!
The Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC) - www.walkinginfo.org
The PBIC is a national clearinghouse with information on how to get involved in making your community more walkable and offers ideas for promoting walking at work and in the community.