I often encounter people who are in poor shape or poor health and are unable to start walking or continue walking for any significant length of time. I keep searching for a way to get these people off the couch! Now, science has discovered a simple solution.
The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity this month published a ground-breaking research study on whether interventions to promote walking in groups increases physical activity.
The researchers reviewed all scientific studies available regarding the effects of walking in groups on physical activity. They initially started with 2,946 unique articles and whittled it down to 33 “quality” published papers. They then carefully analyzed these studies, which encompassed a total of an astounding 4,572 participants.
The researchers tackled two questions:
1. Do people walk more often when joined by others?
2. What is it about walking that suits social groups?
We know that some exercise, such as dancing, is better in pairs, but let’s see what the research revealed about walking.
The More, the Merrier!
I am not talking about downing Jack Daniels, but walking in groups! The researchers found that walking in groups is an effective method to get people to exercise more. This finding was across all ages in the study, the ages of which ranged from 44 years old to 88. The average age was close to 60.
Interestingly for seniors, the participants of more advanced age actually responded better to walking in groups than the younger people. The researchers write:
“Interventions that targeted older adults were found to be more efficacious…”
Efficacious is a fancy way of saying successful. Participants exhibited positive peer pressure on one another. When you have a walking partner (as with a dance partner, dinner partner, etc.) you are more likely to get out there.
And the researchers go on to say:
“… the results of this review indicates that this population benefits more from walking group interventions in terms of physical activity effects. This is a promising finding taking into account the growing proportion of people aged over 60 years and the challenge of public health to maximize the health and functional capacity of this population.”
Previously, I wrote about research that analyzed the top strategies successful walkers use. That study found that 35% of these successful walkers said they have a walking partner and 21% mentioned going with a walking group.
The Groups that Take This Concept to Heart
Even though most people know walking is good for them – and that groups make it more fun – you might not have a go-to group. If so, you’re in luck. I’ve got two groups waiting for you to join:
I’ve been enamored with the AVA for some time. Chapters exist all over the country for walkers to get involved. They’re noncompetitive, welcoming to the whole family (even your pets!) and they always incorporate natural scenery to enhance their outings. There are over 1800 events nationwide every year. These friendly people will get you walking.
As for “Meetups,” they are less formal generally but often just as fun. Groups of local people find common interests online, tell others about an event or “meetup” and then see who’s going. Just look for a “walking” group nearby you. It’s an easy way to find people doing what you’d like to do. By the end of the walk, you’ll have made new friends and you’ll get your walking in, too.
You Don’t Have To Join
The bottom line is that when you have other people planning to walk with you, you have subtle pressure to show up. It is hard to say it’s chilly out when others are waiting to walk with you.
Perhaps, neither of these groups fit your schedule. Make your own! Find a few local walkers and set a schedule that works.
Are You Under Pressure?
We all need as much pressure as possible to make us get up and walk. It can be pressure from the scale going up, your doctor, our pants getting snug, or good old fashioned peer pressure—a group of friends waiting for you so they start walking.
The AVA, Meetups and other walking groups or walking partners will get you out of the house, breathing fresh air, meeting new people and walking more. The research proves it! But, you don’t need to read the science or listen to me, you can just give it a try and see how much fun you have walking with others. And you’ll walk more, too!
It’s Enough to Make You Forget Facebook for Good
I like how Facebook can connect long, lost friends and relatives. I don’t like how people depend on it for social interaction. At the end of every comment, posting and tagging Facebook session, you’re alone at your computer.
When you walk with others, your walk ends with you feeling refreshed, invigorated and around friends.
Walking Is Made For Socializing
There is a reason why walking has endured as our main mode of transportation for millions of years. In fact, we even walk in certain patterns when we walk in groups. Scientists have found we unconsciously position ourselves as we walk in a “walking” formation that allows us to see each other and talk more easily. (Incidentally, the scientists initially had speculated that people in small groups would move in a pattern similar to that of the way birds fly in groups, with a leader out front.)
I cannot help but wonder if socializing and walking are linked from an evolutionary perspective. Is there some kind of built-in mechanism that has made walking and talking a natural bond for human beings? Now, as we talk more over phones and computers, and walk on treadmills by ourselves, I wonder what the long term effect of this “walking-talking” link weaning away will be?
By themselves, walking and talking are each highly beneficial to us. Most of us know how great walking is for helping just about everything that ails us. Talking helps our mind and spirit. It is the main way we connect with other people, and as we become older, being connected is even more important. Taken together, walking and talking are a powerful combination. I wonder if he two together offer more benefits than doing each separately?
If you are not part of a MeetUp, the AVA, or another walking group, join now! Or start your own. You will not regret it. If you know someone who walks alone, tell them about the long-lasting benefits of walking (and talking) with others.
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Kassavou A, Turner A, French DP.Do interventions to promote walking in groups increase physical activity? A systematic literature review with meta-analysis. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2013 Feb 6;10(1):18.