Take a Hike! The A to Zs of Walking and Hiking Clubs

Patricia Jewett has a story that she says sums up — “perfectly” — the walking a-ha moment.

One day recently, Jewett, the host of GroupWorks’ Walking & Hiking channel, was volunteering for the walking group, Walk Oregon, and sending informational links to a new member. The woman who Jewett was communicating with sent back an excited email.

“Wow!” the woman wrote. “I had no idea that walking was a BIG deal!”

That, it is. Here’s an extremely abridged encyclopedia of the whole wide world of walking clubs:

A: AVA: America’s Walking Club

That’s the full name of the American Volkssport Association, the sports organization that partnered with GroupWorks in 2018 to help increase engagement among the get-up-and-go members of its some 300 affiliated clubs (including Walk Oregon). The organization promotes noncompetitive fitness activities (aka volkssports), such as biking, swimming, snowshoeing — and walking. Especially walking. “Walking is the most popular of all U.S. volkssporting activities,” says David Bonewitz, AVA president..

B: Benefits — lots of ’em

There’s upside to taking a step (see: decreased risk of heart disease and improved memory). There’s more upside to taking a step with others. “Joining a walking group is one of the best and easiest ways to boost overall health, with virtually no side effects,” the British Journal of Sports Medicine summed up of its analysis of group-walking studies.

C: C’mon, find a walking buddy already!

Nearly one-third of avid walkers polled for the most recent National Walking Survey said they generally walk with at least one other person (and with or without a dog).

D: Do you need another testimonial?  

“There’s a synergy that happens when you’re walking with a group,” says Jewett.

E: Everything you ever wanted to know about walking, pretty much

Jewett’s own site, All Things Walking, is a testament to walking’s ubiquity. It is a repository of information and  links for every and any kind of walking you can think of (and some forms you probably haven’t): racewalking, Nordic walking, indoor walking, hiking, long-distance hiking, stair-climbing and more.

F: Fun, fitness, friendship

That’s the mission of the AVA, if not the ethos of group walking itself. “While everyone knows that walking is good for you, AVA makes walking fun,” says Bonewitz.

G: Great outdoors

Doing a walk in a green space, especially with a group or club, is “more effective in enhancing your mood and improving your self-esteem” when compared to indoor walking, a study by researchers at the University of Essex, Colchester found.

H: Hiking

“As an organization, hiking is defined as walking within nature,” says Wesley Trimble, program outreach and communications manager for the American Hiking Society, which represents 200 alliance organizations nationwide.

So, a walk on a trail in a state park: Hiking! A walk around the mall food court: Walking! The bottom line: It’s all good! “Over the last few years, that differentiation [between walking and hiking] has grown weaker,” Trimble says. “The dividing line between hiking and walking can be very much interpreted by the individual.”

I: Indoor walking

So, no, as we just learned, indoor or mall walking is probably not hiking, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention thought enough of the form — accessible to walkers “of all levels, ages and abilities” — that it published an entire primer on how to launch a successful mall-walking program.

J: Join! (A walking club, of course.)

In addition to other helpful advice and tidbits, the AVA has suggestions about how to start, and where to find, walking clubs.

K: Kilometers

Or, miles. Whichever. The important thing is to log your progress as you rack up steps. The tally may keep you — and your fellow walkers — coming back for more.

L: Lots of fellow walkers out there, by the way

A survey published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health showed that fully half of the U.S. adult population walked for leisure. Another stat shows a whopping 110.8 million Americans, age 6 and older, walked for fitness in 2017.

M: Motivation

In a group or club setting, your fellow walkers can help spur you on. “The whole point [of a walking club] is to get people out there walking,” says Jewett.

N: No. 1

Walking is Americans’ No. 1 aerobic activity, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported.

O: Owning the outdoors

In 2017, hiking was behind only mountain biking, fishing and running as Americans’ most favorite outdoor activity, a stat shows.

P: Pedometers

Whether you’ve got an old-school step counter or the latest activity tracker, chances are it’s helping egg you on, too. A Stanford Univeristy study found that pedometers encouraged users to walk as much as one extra mile a day

Q: Quitting is not allowed!

Well, OK it is. But while there’s no rule that says once you join a walking club you have to stay, the American Heart Association wants you to think twice before hanging up your shoes. Or, at least, it’s put together a list of tips to help you keep going. (Sample: “If last-minute projects … tend to get in the way, walk in the morning.” )

R: Routes

Picking the right route can be a key to a successful walking club, per the American Heart Association’s overview on walking clubs. (Pro tip, per the pamphlet: Test walk the route before sending your group out on it.)

S: Sierra Club

This famed organization, founded in 1892 by no less than National Parks champion and naturalist John Muir, boasts 3.5 million members and supporters who help lead 15,000 annual outings, from, as the Sierra Club puts it, “extended trips across the world to afternoon hikes not far from home.” There are dozens of Sierra Club chapters located throughout the United States and Puerto Rico, including 13 in California alone. (Canada’s covered by the Sierra Club Canada Foundation.)

T: Time matters
What kind of walker are you? The National Walking Survey defined “frequent walkers” as individuals who walked for at least 15 minutes a day, at least three to four days a week.

U: Up your activity

If you’re not in the frequent-walker category, then consider having a walking club help get you there. “Humans were selected for motion and not for inactivity — inactivity makes us ill,” Dr. Gunther Neumayr told Reuters Health in 2015.

V: Volkssporting

Each year, the AVA’s Bonewitz says, the group’s clubs offer more than 3,000 volkssporting events. “Typically participants can choose their time to start within a start/finish window and participate in the sport at their own pace,” he says. “There are also many established walk routes that can be walked throughout the year or seasonally at the participant’s personal convenience.”

W: Walkability

Groups like America Walks, which commissioned the National Walking Survey, are devoted to making communities accessible and inviting to all walkers.

X, Y and Zoos!

No matter where you are (even at a zoo, a CDC-recommended alternative to traditional mall walking) and no matter who you are (see Jewett’s All Things Walking for links to sites, including the CDC’s, that feature info on walking efforts for the disabled), you can take a step toward a walking group.