According to the Canadian Community Health Survey, walking is the most popular form of physical activity among adults in Canada.
This article offers tips about starting a walking group in your community and discusses the many health benefits of walking.
Did you know that walking regularly can be enough to reduce your risk of chronic diseases? Being active can help prevent diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, osteoporosis and other diseases.
Remember that you don’t need to race walk! In fact, by walking regularly – at a moderate pace – you can gain important health benefits. With time, you can increase your pace to a moderate level. Begin by walking at a pace that feels right for you, and slowly increase your pace when you feel ready.
One of the best things about walking is that it’s free! Plus, you can walk in your own neighbourhood or on nearby trails and routes.
Whether you walk alone, with one or two friends, or with a group, you will be sure to enjoy the exercise and fresh air.
Starting a Walking Group
One of the best motivators for regular walking is to walk with a group.
If you’re not ready to start your own walking group, try to joining an existing group. There may be more than one choice for you, perhaps through your local community league, a fitness club in your area, or a walking group at your workplace.
If you’re keen on starting your own group, go for it!
If you already have a group of friends who would like to get together regularly to walk and talk – lucky you! All you need to do is agree on a regular walking time and route. As you get into a regular walking habit, the group can decide on any changes to walking times, meeting locations and walking routes.
If you don’t have enough contacts or friends willing to form a group with you, then try recruiting members by other means, such as:
- talking to people who live on your street
- putting a notice in your community newsletter and/or putting up posters in your community, inviting people to participate in a start-up meeting and a first group walk
- talking to your local recreation department or community league about helping you to start and publicize your walking group
- asking co-workers to consider a lunch-hour walking group
- using e-mail, phone calls and social networking tools to spread the word, asking people to get involved and about their preferred routes or walking time
Sometimes, a walking group works best if the members have common interests or goals. Consider factors such as:
- Does the person like to walk at the same time, e.g., mornings, daytime hours, evenings, or weekends?
- Do potential participants live near each other? (If so, this helps with getting together at a handy meeting point.)
- What is the fitness level of each participant? What individual walking or fitness goals do they have?
- What distance is the person willing to walk on a regular basis?
- How often does the person want to walk? (once a week, several times a week, or daily?)
- What types of walking routes is the person interested in? For example, do they want to walk only on forested trails or would they prefer to walk on active city streets with shops and coffee shops?
Depending on the number of participants you attract to your group, and their interests and goals, you may have to come to a group consensus about the first walk, and subsequent times, routes and walking pace. Possibly, more than one group can be created, with different objectives or schedules.
But don’t worry. Most often, forming a group is not complicated. The good news is that with only a few like-minded people, you can get started right away. The more the merrier!
Walking is Contagious
When people notice an individual or a walking group in their community or neighbourhood, it can be quite contagious.
Your presence in the community as a regular walker can sometimes be enough on its own to inspire others to join you, or get walking regularly on their own.
Similarly, the presence of a walking group can also be inspirational, whether at work or in the community. Sometimes people just need to see a positive example in action. Then, they may take the initiative and ask to join your group!
Leaders and Champions
An enthusiastic walking group champion or leader can play a vital role in keeping a walking group active and attracting more walkers.
Typically, the more positive the group leaders and members are, the longer the group will last. If the group has a high energy level and are supportive towards each other’s walking goals, it can help to bring a sense of camaraderie, and perhaps attract more members to the group.
A group leader or leaders can encourage members to share their contact information with each other, so members can stay in touch and easily reach one another. For example, changes to scheduled walking times can be sent to all members, or members can connect with each other for additional walks in smaller groups.
Group leaders also have responsibilities to make sure members don’t feel left out, and that they are not left behind on the trail or route. Matching walkers with others at their fitness level or walking pace will help all members to feel comfortable and supported.
Group leaders and members should all be respectful of starting times and planned walking times and distances. After all, no one likes to waste time or be kept waiting for an event to start. By keeping on schedule, all members will get equal benefits from each walking excursion.
Finding Good Routes
Some communities have walking maps of good routes along sidewalks, trails or parks. For example, Walkable Edmonton offers maps of some Edmonton communities, showing walking routes and other features.
If you don’t have community walking maps, your group can make up your own. For instance, you can tailor your own maps using Google Maps or other mapping tools.
Walking along busy streets often means your group members will be inhaling vehicle exhaust fumes. Most groups find that it’s usually best to find a quiet, peaceful route, where members can chat easily and enjoy fresh air.
Although group leaders or organizers often have certain routes in mind, encourage your members to participate by making suggestions for alternative routes and distances. Over time, your members may decide to take turns leading the group. This can help all members feel a part of the group and will likely help the group to stay together over a longer period of time.
Simple Rules for Your Group
Each group is different, but most groups will need to put a few core rules in place, so that all members are on the same page.
For instance, will your group walk regardless of the weather? Some groups walk rain or shine - and others don’t. Some walk on the coldest days of the winter, while others agree not to walk if the temperature drops below a certain point. The weather “rules” should be communicated clearly, so all members know when to attend or not.
One way to keep the group active even on the coldest days is to shorten the length of the walk, or break it up into two periods, with a short indoor break at the half-way point so people can warm up for awhile.
Other rules can be discussed by the group as needed, such as when to extend the walking distance or how often to meet and walk. Keep your rules as simple and clear as possible, so everyone knows what to expect at each walk.
Number of Walking Groups Increasing
Walking groups are becoming more and more common these days. It’s easy to see why. After all, most people enjoy a good long walk in the fresh air, especially if they haven’t done so recently!
Take a minute to talk to your friends, neighbours and co-workers about walking more often. Invite someone along with you on your next walk; your “co-walker” will likely appreciate the outing and the exercise.
Last but not least, take the lead and try forming your own walking group. It’s a great way to become more active and boost your own supports and motivation for regular walking. Walking is also an excellent way to connect with more of your neighbours or co-workers, plus it can help to make your community and local streets safer and friendlier.
Offers a variety of information and resources on walkable communities.
Edmonton: Community Walking Maps
Includes walking maps of several Edmonton communities. More maps are under development.
Calgary Pathways and Bikeway Map
An interactive map produced by the City of Calgary.
Check out the annual walking calendar from this Alberta organization.
Walking Club Guide (Carver County, California)
A new resource for walking clubs.