Most of us are aware of the benefits that come from walking, yet this basic human function typically learned after one year of life is not utilized in adulthood as much as it could be. Walking has a great amount of health benefits and serves as a mode of transportation. This piece will discuss those benefits in the context of walking groups or clubs.
A walking group is as straightforward as it sounds and simple to start on one’s own. In addition to the benefits that come from walking alone, walking groups also offer accountability, personal growth and development, and safety (5). Joining walking groups can also increase the motivation to make walking trips rather than driving to places.
America Walks and Sam Schwartz Engineering partnered to create the guide Steps to a Walkable Community. The guide includes a brief on transportation benefits that come from increased walking. Road congestion is currently a problem in the U.S.; in 2010, over 4 billion hours were wasted due to traffic delays and $115 billion dollars were incurred in congestion costs. There are efforts to combat these congestion issues with constructing new roads or widening existing roads. However, research shows that building or adding to new roads increases driving which then increases pollution, road collisions and poor health outcomes. At the same time, improvements to walking infrastructure can contribute to less driving, which will reduce traffic, congestion and pollution. Todd Litman found in 2010 that 40 percent of all trips in a car are less than 2 miles (4).
Another benefit that comes from walking groups is the safety in numbers. Being in a group creates a buddy system where people can look out for one another on the streets. More people walking also makes the road safer for all pedestrians. Jacobsen found that people walking and bicycling in larger groups are less likely to be injured by motorists although pedestrians and cyclists do not usually become more cautious in larger groups. However, motorists change their behavior with more people walking and bicycling. The author suggests supporting policies that increase the number of people walking and bicycling as it seems to be an effective way of improving the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists (2).
A national non-profit that is growing in popularity is GirlTrek, a grassroots movement that advocates for daily walking. The organization is open and welcome to anyone but there is a focus on Black women because they are the group that has the highest obesity rates in the country (1). GirlTrek is rooted in the civil rights legacy, and believes in honoring those who walked and marched during that time. The GirlTrek mission states that they will inspire one million Black women “to walk, run or hike at least 5 days per week” by 2018. Since their national launch in 2012, GirlTrek has reached great success towards the one million goal and 65,307 women have taken the pledge (1). There are GirlTrek chapters in 27 cities or metro areas across the country. Here is the Facebook group for GirlTrek New Jersey.
GirlTrek also emphasizes the healing powers of walking. As mentioned previously, black women have the highest obesity rates in the country, as four out of five African American women are overweight or obese (7). Gary G. Bennett, a lead obesity researcher, found that positive obesity treatment is connected to high levels of engagement. To this end, GirlTrek has been successful in gathering and sustaining engagement for being physically active (1). Walking can also lower health risks such as cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, vascular health, and mental stress. Walking combined with moderate exercise protects against dementia, peripheral artery disease, obesity, depression, colon cancer, and erectile dysfunction (6). In a study on the effectiveness of interventions to increase physical activity, “social support interventions in community settings” was closely related to GirlTrek and other forms of walking groups. The review of this intervention method found that the frequent support from walking groups lead to more activity. Frequent support included “buddy system”, “contracts” with others and building social networks. Increased physical activity was measured by the percentage of people engaged in the activity, energy expenditure, or measure of physical activity (3).
Walking in groups is sure to do more good than harm, for oneself and the community. This summer is a great time to join a group or create your own group with family and friends. Read below to learn about a few recognized walking groups in New Jersey and a guide from the American Heart Association to find other groups or clubs and tips for getting started.
-By Nimotalai Azeez