Let's face it--when it comes to exercise, we could all use some extra motivation. Why not gather friends to walk with you?

Walking Together

I recently made an interesting discovery. Without the women in my walking group, exercise is a complete drag.

Ever since I smartened up to the benefits of exercise, I've been a regular at my local gym, usually wearing a path on the treadmill. After several years, I reached a point when I had absolutely no willpower to continue--not because I hated to work out, but because I was simply bored. I fell into the trap that keeps so many people from physical activity: lack of variety. So when a lady at my church suggested walking together, I gratefully accepted. As I began sharing with others how much I enjoyed these walks and talks, I found more people who wanted to join in as well. In no time at all, I became part of a full-fledged walking group and gained a newfound energy for exercising.

Supporting Each Other
"Support system" are not words I would have once used in association with my physical fitness. I assumed I had the self-discipline to get in shape. Boy, was I wrong. The women I walk with have become a critical motivating force in my life. Not only do they encourage me on days when I'd rather be lying on the couch, but they also inspire me mentally and spiritually. As we exercise, we pass the time by telling about our days, venting frustrations, sharing victories, discussing problems, or just laughing. I can always feel the tension slip away during our walks together.

How To Get Started
Find walking partners by considering people you enjoy spending time with. As you choose exercise companions, approach people who are at your same fitness level. Someone who runs half marathons may not be suited for a walking group. Consider friends and coworkers whose schedules are similar to yours. Another great option is joining an established walking group. A local YMCA, recreation center, or hospital wellness program can lead you in the right direction. For a listing of some local walking clubs, visit the American Volkssport Association's Web site at www.ava.org.

When and Where
Once you've found others interested in walking, establish specific times when you can get together. My group makes an effort to exercise about four times a week, though everyone can't always be there every time. But that's okay--it keeps our time together interesting. The changing group dynamic offers a chance to get to know different people a bit better.

When deciding where to go, be sure to walk in places where you feel safe--especially if you're out at night. Avoid wooded walking trails after sundown, and opt for a lit track or neighborhood. Spice up your routine by alternating where you walk and even the route you take. One week you might hit the walking trail, and the next trek around the mall.

Whether I meet my friends early in the morning before my busy day begins or after work when I'm craving a much-needed energy boost, I look forward to the time I spend with this group every week. They truly keep me motivated.

Healthy Benefits

  • Your heart will thank you for the exercise. Walking for 30 minutes, five times a week, can help reduce heart-risk factors such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
  • Flabby muscles will be a thing of the past. Walking is a wonderful way to burn calories and increase your metabolism, not to mention tone up any fatty spots that may be hanging around.
  • Exercise in and of itself is a proven stress reducer, and when you also have a couple of people to talk to, life's problems may not seem as overwhelming.
  • People need people. Walking with a group offers a great chance to get to know interesting folks. Plus it allows you to socialize while getting fit.

The Trusty Shoe
When it comes to walking, the right shoe can make or break you. Feb Boswell, manager and footwear buyer for Fleet Feet Sports in Memphis, says if you're walking consistently, you need to buy a new pair of shoes about every six months. Here are some tips to keep in mind when you start shopping.

  • Fit is of utmost importance. "A lot of people buy shoes that are too small," says Feb. "You should pick ones that are a half size to a full size longer than you normally wear. Feet tend to swell during physical activity, and your foot will slide forward when you get fatigued. The heel should fit nicely, but you should have at least a thumb-width of room at the end of the shoe."
  • Walk around the store for several minutes and on different surfaces. You shouldn't have to break in walking shoes; they should fit comfortably right out of the box.
  • Examine each pair closely, checking the inside of the shoes for seams, bumps, and rough patches that could hurt your feet.
  • Shop at places, such as athletic-shoe stores, where knowledgeable employees can help you find the proper shoes for your needs.

This article is from the January 2005 issue of Southern Living.