Starting a walking group requires little effort and provides big rewards. Simply spread the word and get organized. Soon you'll be walking toward better health.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Because walking is possible for most people and doesn't require special skills or equipment, it has become the most popular form of physical activity in the U.S. If you like to walk, why not invite others along on your walking adventures. Getting support from others by walking together can actually help you stick with your health and fitness goals.

Starting a walking group isn't that hard, and the rewards are worth a little extra trouble.

You already know the health benefits of walking. Here's what else you get when you walk with others:

  • Accountability
  • Motivation
  • Safety
  • Socialization

To start a walking group, start by spreading the word. Talk up your walking group among your family members, friends and neighbors. Use your Facebook or Twitter accounts to reach out to interested friends and friends of friends. You might be surprised to find that you're surrounded by people who are ready to lace up their walking shoes — and hold each other accountable for regular exercise.

Maybe you'd prefer recruiting colleagues. Ask your employer about having a friendly workplace competition. Challenge those in your work group to a pedometer contest, for example. The group that achieves the most steps takes home bragging rights or a simple prize. Or, keep track of the number of minutes of activity for the group and see who comes out on top each week.

Once you've recruited members for your walking group, hold a kickoff meeting. Collect email addresses, phone numbers and other contact details, so you can stay in touch about workouts and keep each other motivated. You can even set up your group online using tools, such as those available on the American Heart Association website.

Then discuss the details of your walking group, such as:

  • How often to walk
  • The distance to cover
  • The route to take
  • The speed to walk
  • When and where to meet
  • Whether to walk indoors or outdoors
  • What to do in case of bad weather

Of course, your walking group may need some flexibility to accommodate weather, work schedules, illness or other factors that may arise. If you've recruited lots of people, consider breaking into smaller walking groups, perhaps based on fitness level, fitness goals, availability or other factors.

On the other hand, if your walking group members are at different fitness levels, you may be able to encourage and motivate each other by walking together. Staying motivated is one of the key factors in sticking with your health and fitness goals for the long term. So lean on your walking buddies for support, especially on those days when you feel like skipping your workout.

Once your group's walking routine is established, look for ways to maintain and boost motivation. You might choose a name for your walking group, enter charity walking events, and set group goals to increase walking time or intensity.

The camaraderie you experience in a walking group and the shared fitness success can help you walk your way to better health.

Feb. 18, 2014