Live Right Live Well: Health & Fitness
Walking Clubs: The Ultimate Adult Sports Teams
By Winnie Yu for Live Right Live Well
Tired of working out alone? Looking to freshen up your exercise routine? Consider a walking club. There’s a reason kids participate in team sports; the same principles work for adults too. Walking clubs are an ideal way to stay fit and social at the same time. Plus, being a team member means you stick with an exercise routine because you’re accountable to others.
Phil Heit, who founded the New Albany Walking Club in New Albany, Ohio, says he got the idea when he took up walking after years of competitive running took its toll on his knees. “I started walking longer distances, and people offered to walk with me, so I decided to start a club,” says Heit, a professor emeritus of physical activity and educational services at Ohio State University.
To find a walking club in your area, try organizations like the American Volkssport Association. Or better yet, start one of your own. Here’s what Heit recommends to get yours off the ground:
Get the word out. Heit says most of his members learned about his walking club through word of mouth. But he also put up posters in health clubs, at the local YMCA and sporting goods stores. If you’re ambitious, create a website and use social media like Facebook to spread the word.
Commit to a regular meeting time -- and stick with it. Heit’s group has met every Sunday morning at 7:30 a.m. since 2003. “The only Sunday mornings we would miss is if we had a race in which most of us were participating, or if there was a very heavy rain or ice,” he says. “Snow is not an excuse.”
Set goals. Heit encourages walkers to set their own goals, whether they want to build speed, lose weight or train for an event. But you can set group goals too. For instance, the group can try to log enough miles to walk to a distant state. “We even have a small group within the club called Dashing Divas that does marathons and half-marathons around the country,” says Heit.
Keep it interesting. Heit says he sometimes challenges the group to walk a certain distance in a shorter amount of time. He also has several routes through local parks and in the community. “We do not do the same route for more than two consecutive weeks,” he says.
Make it social. A social component builds camaraderie. After every weekly walk, Heit’s group goes out for coffee.
Make it a real team. Shortly after he launched his club, Heit secured $2,000 from a local hospital and purchased uniforms. He got discounts at local sporting goods stores and began encouraging organizers of running events to add walking divisions. He also started the New Albany Walking Classic, the largest walking-only race in the U.S. These days, he charges $35 for a lifetime membership, which includes a free training shirt, windbreaker and competition uniform. Members can attend seminars on health and nutrition, and receive an e-newsletter that is filled with training tips.
Winnie Yu frequently writes about health and nutrition for Live Right Live Well. Her articles have appeared in Prevention, VIVMag, AARP Bulletin, Diabetic Living and on NYTimes.com. She is the author of What to Eat for What Ails You and the American Academy of Pediatrics' New Mother's Guide to Breastfeeding.
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