Walking is an easy way to start building activity into your life and to make that activity stick. It doesn’t require any special skills, facilities or expensive equipment and most people can walk or roll including those who use assistive devices, such as walkers or wheelchairs. Though walking has always been a popular way to stay active, the recent surge in popularity of the organized walking group is helping to get more people out the door and on their feet, regularly.
We already know that walking has myriad health benefits, but did you know that walking in a group can help you stick to your health and fitness goals? Walkers across the country report an increase in motivation, accountability and socialization when they participate in a walking group rather than going at it alone.
Whether you’re an exercise professional, community organization or health advocate, starting a community walking group is really quite simple; and it’s a great way to get people moving and impact the health of your community.
With these five tips you will be on your way to starting a successful walking program.
Spread the Word
Reach out to neighbors, friends and coworkers to recruit walkers. Use social media to get the message out. Contact local community-based organizations, recreation departments or community leagues to see if they can help promote the walking group.
Pick a time and place to meet. Identifying a safe place and setting a consistent time is key. This makes it easier for you as an organizer and your walkers will appreciate the ability to plan ahead and block out the time for themselves.
Form an Inclusive Environment
As the walking group organizer it’s your duty to cultivate a space that’s physically and emotionally safe for all people. Take the time to understand your participant’s individual needs, abilities and disabilities before getting started.
Know Your Audience
Who are you walking with? If you are working with a group of beginner walkers, you may want to begin with less strenuous workouts by reducing how fast and how far you walk.
Encourage Social Interaction
Help your walkers make connections with others in the group. This will keep them engaged and active in the group. For some, this may be the only time they have for themselves outside of work, kids and life so have fun and talk it out while you walk it out.
Are you interested in starting a community walking program? ACE has many resources to help you get started, including Walk This Way!, a free toolkit for developing community and individual walking programs and Making Walkable Communities the Norm, a free webinar (or paid, if interested in earning CEC’s) that explores the important role fitness professionals and health advocates can play in advocating for healthier and more walkable communities.