Walking Groups: Easy Steps to Better Health

Walking groups may improve overall health with almost no side effects

(RxWiki News) Exercise doesn't have to be complicated. Even simple walks with friends may improve your health.

A recent study found that adults who joined outdoor walking groups had improved overall health. These patients had better heart health and were less likely to be depressed than those who didn't exercise regularly.

"I believe that activity is extremely beneficial to anybody," said fitness expert Jim Crowell, of OPEX Fitness in Scottsdale, AZ, in an interview with dailyRx News. "Everybody sits on a different part of the 'health spectrum,' so there isn't a one size fits all level of activity that is most beneficial to an individual. But, in general, taking somebody who was previously sedentary and adding in walking (if their body is able) to their daily activities can show great health benefits."

Walking can strengthen the legs, increase mobility and improve overall mood, among other benefits, Crowell added.

Sarah Hanson, PhD, and Andy Jones, PhD, both of Norwich Medical School in the UK, conducted this research. They reviewed data from 42 studies involving almost 2,000 adults. These patients, from 14 different countries, had various conditions, such as arthritis, diabetes, obesity and Parkinson's disease.

When they joined a walking group, these patients showed a significant decrease in their average blood pressure, resting heart rate, body fat, total cholesterol and depression scores, Drs. Hanson and Jones found.

Although doctors recommend exercise as a health booster, many adults are not active enough to truly benefit their health, these researchers noted.

Drs. Hanson and Jones found that outdoor walking groups promoted health while making it easier for people to stick to a fitness routine. Three quarters of the study patients stuck with their groups, this study found.

Cost-effectiveness, peer support and companionship are some of the aspects that may attract people to walking groups, Drs. Hanson and Jones noted.

People in outdoor walking groups typically take short outdoor walks led by trained volunteers.

Drs. Hanson and Jones found that taking part in such short walks was safe for most people. The risks of joining a walking group were limited to a few trips and falls on roots and wet ground.

Doctors should recommend this type of moderate activity to patients to reduce health problems, these researchers said.

"With low levels of attrition, high levels of adherence and virtually no adverse effects, this study suggests that walking groups could be a practicable intervention, acceptable to patients as a line of treatment with a potential for both physiological and psychological health benefits," Drs. Hanson and Jones wrote.

This study was published Jan. 19 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The Centre for Diet and Activity Research, the British Heart Foundation, the Economic and Social Research Council, the Medical Research Council, the National Institute for Health Research and the Wellcome Trust funded this research. Drs. Hanson and Jones disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
January 19, 2015