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I am sure many of us have all heard or been told about how important physical activity is when it comes to our physical health, however, many people may not know just the important factors it can play when it comes to our overall well-being .
In April of 2016, the Arc embarked on our first walking program. It was a campaign aimed to kick off the American Heart Association’s National Start Walking Day. The goal was to not just to make it a day of walking, but a season of walking and exploring the Monroe County area together. Staff, people we support as an agency, friends and family, all invited to attend. We met a few days a week at planned locations and set out on foot to enjoy a walk.
Throughout our seasons, our program has evolved, and to date it is one of our most successful and highly attended programs.
Why is it so successful? Well to start, walking is a unique exercise, in that most everyone can participate, you don’t need special clothes, any equipment, or a special talent, and, the cost is free to attend! But aside from that, it can only be my guess, that those that are taking part are reaping the rewards of walking! Walking itself, walking as part of a group, walking in the community, and walking in nature.
Yes, it’s true, physical activity, including walking, can help decrease the risk for cardiovascular disease, help to lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels, manage blood sugar, help keep muscles and bones strong, decrease the risk for some cancers, and help to manage weight.¹-2 But did you also know the benefits of physical activity extend far beyond our physical health? For it can help improve mood1-4, decrease symptoms of anxiety2 and depression1-2, help with creative thinking3, with sleep1, it helps to keep your brain sharp1-2, assists people in being more productive4, and can even help you to live longer!¹-2
More so walking as a group has proven to have extra benefits 5, and, walking in nature3, 6-7, even looking at nature8, may help to reduce stress levels3, 6-8 and stimulate thought process3. It can also help someone to feel more connected to their community.9-10
Over the course of our walking program, we have walked over 30 different parks, neighborhoods, and trails. We have learned about the area that we live in, learned more about each other, made new friends and community connections, have been exposed to all the different and beautiful plant life that Rochester has to offer, and have seen some amazing wildlife as well. Each walk is a new experience, there is always something new to see, a different memory to be made, and new ideas to formulate.
So now that I’ve convinced you to step out on foot: reap the rewards of walking, and walking with others, by forming your own walking group!
Here some tips to help you start:
- Find out who has interest in participating: this can be done simply by word of mouth with friends, family members, and neighbors, or if you are looking to form a walking group at your worksite, an email, or informal survey may work well. To expand your reach social media could also be a useful tool.
- Find out what day and time works well for most walkers. At our agency, we walk on three different days, and have an afternoon time designated, as well as a morning time to accommodate varying schedules.
- How often and how long will you walk for? Will your group meet daily? A few times a week? How much time can people commit to at each walk? Our group walks three times a week, and shoots for about 30 minutes at each walk, however, if impractical in your setting, no worries, some time is better than none! Try a 10 or 15 minute walking break instead. Bonus if you can fit two in!
- Meeting place: this might be a common decided area if you are meeting in the workplace, a central location if you have others that are coming from different directions, or if your team plans to walk in different locations each time, a schedule of planned walks, along with a map of the meeting location, and a contact number should be provided, in case people have trouble finding the place, or need to get in touch.
- Terrain: It’s important to consider the fitness levels and needs of those participating in your walking group. We try and pick trails and walkways that are relatively flat and smooth so that those in wheelchairs are able to participate. On days where the terrain may be a little bit more challenging, we make sure let people know ahead of time so people can plan accordingly.
- Seasonality: the time of year may play a crucial role in where you plan to choose to walk. With the snow melting and rain falling in the spring- try and pick trails and pathways that stay relatively dry and drain well. In the summer, you may want to include meeting locations that offer some relief from the heat and the sun. Seek trails that offer a cool breeze or shade.
- Attire: Although you may not need special clothes to participate, you may want to:
- Wear clothes you can move in, and, have comfortable shoes on for which you can walk.
- Be mindful of the weather: dress in layers on a cooler day, and have sunglasses and hats available on warmer days.
- First Aid:
- If you will be out and about, you may want to have a first aid kit available, just in case.
- Bring water to rehydrate, especially on warmer days.
- To prevent sun burn, wear sunscreen.
- Start walking!
- Mind the pace: you will most likely have people who will walk at different speeds. For those that move a little bit quicker, have them loop back every once in a while to rejoin the rest of the group. You can also have them do stationary exercises to wait as the rest of the group catches up, or change of the way you get from A to B, walking lunges, side or backward stepping, high knee marches, or traveling squats, may all slow those fast paced walkers down.
- Mind the group: if people are winded, encourage them it is okay to slow down, find a place for them to take a time out, drink some water, stretch, or sit down.
- Seek feedback from those participating,
- What is working well? What’s not?
- What locations were most enjoyable, what were the most challenging, and why?
- Does the schedule still work?
- Are there other places people know that are worth exploring?
- Use feedback, and make adjustments as necessary.
Here are some of our favorite resources we use to help us plan our walking group locations:
- Take A Hike – Family Walks in the Rochester, NY Area (Third Edition)
- Local town parks and recreation websites
- Participant requests!
Where are your favorite places to walk? Share them in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you, and, check them out as well!
- S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2008.
- McKinney J, Lithwick DJ, Morrison BN, Zazzari H, Isserow SH, Heilbron B, Krahn AD. The health benefits of physical activity and cardio respiratory fitness. BCMJ. 2016; 58(3):131-137.
- Oppezzo M, Schwartz DL. Give your ideas some legs: The positive effect of walking on creative thinking. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. 2014; 40(4): 1142-1152. doi: 10.1037/a0036577.
- Coulson JC, McKenna J, Field M. Exercising at work and self‐reported work performance. International Journal of Workplace Health Management. 2008; 1(3): 176-197. doi:10.1108/17538350810926534.
- Hanson S, Jones A. Is there evidence that walking groups have health benefits? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med. 2015; 49: 710-715. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2014-094157.
- Gladwell VF, Brown DK, Wood C, Sandercook GR, Barton JL. The great outdoors: how a green exercise environment can benefit all. Extreme Physiology & Medicine. 2013; 2(3). doi: 10.1186/2046-7648-2-3.
- Pasanen T, Tyrväinen L, Korpela K. The relationship between perceived health and physical activity indoors, outdoors, in built environments, and outdoors in nature. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. 2014; 6(3): 324-346. doi: 10.1111/aphw.12031.
- Berto R. The Role of Nature in Coping with Psycho-Physiological Stress: A Literature Review on Restorativeness. Behavioral Sciences. 2014; 4(4): 394-409. doi: 10.3390/bs4040394.
- Leyden KM. Social capital and the built environment: the importance of walkable neighborhoods. American Journal of Public Health. 2003; 93(9): 1546-1550.
- Zuniga-Teran A, Orr BJ, Gimblett RH, Chalfoun NV, Guertin DP, Marsh SE. Neighborhood design, physical activity, and wellbeing: applying the walkability model. I J. Environ. Res. Public Health. 2017; 14(76). doi: 10.3390/ijerph14010076.
By, Elissa Strassman, RDN, CDN. Elissa is the Health and Wellness Coordinator at the Arc of Monroe.