There’s nothing like a walk with a friend — you can catch up, de-stress and get the exercise your body needs to thrive. As it turns out, if you’re trying to increase your step count, one of the most surefire ways might be turning it into a social occasion.
Recent research shows you may be more likely to stick with a walking group compared to a solo walking routine (in fact, many of those who walked with others were still going strong half a year later), per a review in the International Journal of Technology Assessment in Health Care. Even better, participants in a walking group also showed an increase in quality of life.
Your mental and physical health benefit from joining a walking group for several reasons:
Joining a walking group helps you connect with others and make friends, says Judy Heller, a certified personal trainer, walking coach and founder of Wonders of Walking. According to a study in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy, group walkers attribute a boost in their well-being to the social support they get from their walking buddies. Considering nearly half of us feel lonely all or some of the time (and a busy work week can make it difficult to make time for friends and exercise), a walking group can help you re-prioritize both.
Walking can make you feel better, even if you’re dreading it or feeling less-than-enthused when you first get moving, finds a study in Emotion. A brisk walk encourages the release of mood-boosting endorphins, and in the long term, it may even lower your risk of depression.
Walking can improve your cardiovascular fitness, lower your blood pressure and “bad” cholesterol levels, and, in turn, reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke, says Michele Olson, PhD, certified strength and conditioning specialist and a senior clinical professor at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama. What’s more, heart health improvements are even greater when you’re walking with others, per a review in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Working out with others consistently means you’ll have like-minded friends to motivate you when you don’t feel like exercising, and they’ll keep you challenged. This could mean starting a strength-training routine together or adding bodyweight movements to your next group walk.
There’s safety in numbers, so with your walking group you’ll feel comfortable exploring new parts of your town or walking when it’s darker out.
Sticking to a regular exercise routine isn’t easy, so when you reach a weight-loss goal or walk more miles than you ever have, you should celebrate. Your walking group will understand the significance of your accomplishment and be around to help you commemorate the moment.