Social support is a key factor in sticking with an exercise program, and a walking group can provide the motivation you need to stay active. Use these tips to start a walking group and commit to long term exercise.
Invite new people.
Consider inviting people whom you’d like to get to know better. Ask the person you see walking in the park every morning or post an invitation at church, at a community center, or at your workplace.
Designating a core group of leaders is essential to keep your group on track. The goal for leaders is not to take responsibility away from the group, but to have a central point for information. The best scenario is to have two to three good communicators that will send out reminders, and who are a point of contact if someone needs to cancel. Having two people in this role ensures someone in-the-know will be at every walk when one leader must skip out due to vacation, sickness, or family emergencies.
Gather important information.
It’s important to gather some basic information from the group to compile and share with other members.
- Phone numbers or email addresses: Make sure you know how to get in touch with members. This is important for sending schedule reminders or last minute cancellations.
- Emergency contact: Be sure each person has someone you can call if an emergency occurs while you are out for your walk.
- Health information: This doesn’t have to be shared with the whole group, but it’s important for the leaders to know if members have a health condition that is influenced by exercise. For example, if a member has diabetes, he or she could experience hypoglycemia during a walk.
Create a schedule.
Be realistic about how often you will meet -- two times per week, four times per week? Perhaps you set official walks on Tuesday and Thursday at 6:00 pm, but some in the group will meet informally every day. Also determine how far or how long you will walk so that new members can judge if their fitness level fits your group. You might start walking your route together, but allow some members to walk more or less depending on their needs. Or you can schedule a 20 minute walk on Monday and Wednesday evenings and a 60 minute walk on Saturday mornings.
Set some ground rules.
No one wants to be in a group that is too rigid and uninviting, but agreeing on a few ground rules in the beginning will help you reduce drama and hurt feelings later.
Keep it positive: You know how unpleasant it is to be stuck with that person who won’t stop complaining or who gossips endlessly. Agree that conversations will be positive and encouraging, and that members have the right to let each other know if it begins to steer in the other direction. (See 7 Tips for Being a Better Workout Partner).
Reminders: It’s important that everyone in the group take responsibility for his or her exercise. Decide how many messages group leaders will send out - a monthly schedule, a weekly reminder?
Make an inclement weather plan: Even the most avid exercisers may be deterred by thunderstorms, extreme heat, or ice. Will you cancel, or is there a place indoors where you can walk, such as a gymnasium or shopping mall?
Set a goal.
As you begin to improve your fitness together, consider setting some longer term goals. Raise funds for a charity and walk your first 5K together. If you share similar interests and goals, you may want your walking group to evolve into a running group, or you can meet for other activities, such as water sports or yoga.