Walking is one of the best ways to improve your overall health — you can do it anywhere, anytime, and you only need a pair of good walking shoes. While you can reap the benefits with a solo walking routine, research shows participating in a walking group could help maximize your mental and physical well-being.
A meta-study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine analyzed 42 studies with data from more than 2,000 people and found those who participated in daily group walks showed significant decreases in average blood pressure, resting heart rate, body fat, weight and total cholesterol compared to those who walked solo.
In addition to those benefits, improvements in mental health and overall performance were also noted, with walking group members showing a reduction in depressive symptoms and a higher aerobic (lung) capacity.
“People tend to walk further and faster in walking groups,” says Sarah Hanson, PhD, one of the lead researchers of the study. When you have someone next to you who is pushing the pace, you’ll be less likely to slow down, and the miles will feel like they’re ticking by even faster. Pushing the pace is important, since walking briskly (100 steps per minute) is tied to longevity and better overall health.
“Joining a group is important for habit formation,” notes Hanson. “If you say you’ll see your workout partners at the same time next week, you’re more likely to show up.” Moreover, research shows you’re more likely to stick with a walking group long-term (Think: Greater than six months) compared to a solo walking routine.
READ MORE > THE PROS AND CONS OF WALKING WITH YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER
Loneliness can contribute to adverse health issues such as depression and sedentary behavior. The team sports element to walking groups (or just the chance to chat with others in-person) can provide a much-needed social aspect that keeps walking fun and engaging. This boosts your mood levels, making it easier to stick with healthy habits when it’s something you enjoy.
“Walking is a great entry-level activity for people in poor health, which is one reason walking groups are increasingly prescribed as treatments from general practitioners,” says Hanson. Even if you’re already in good shape, the benefits of lowering cholesterol and improving aerobic endurance by walking with others are great ways to improve your health without medications — especially when you consider walking has virtually no harmful side effects.
While walking on your own is better than not walking at all, walking groups can be a great way to meet new people while boosting your health. Find your group via an online meetup or through this nonprofit walking organization. For a more competitive club, join a race-walking group. Just make sure to follow your state’s guidelines for wearing a mask and social distancing on walks. If you’re not ready to walk with others, you can always form a family group or recruit a furry friend.
To become more active, try setting a simple goal to increase (and track) your daily steps. Go to “Plans” in the MyFitnessPal app and choose a 28-day step plan to learn tips to boost your activity.