Friends bring us laughter, support and fun—they’re among life’s greatest gifts. Not to be overlooked, they can also be a boon to your walking routine. No, we’re not talking about them serving as your own personal cheering squad (though having outside support for achieving your fitness goals can encourage you to go for miles). Walking with a friend can actually change the way you look at this beneficial aerobic activity—even how you experience it.
Walking with a pal is, in a sense, no different than keeping another social commitment, like meeting someone for lunch. You show up because you don’t want to let them down. You focus more on the quality conversation and bonding time, rather than what you’re doing or where you are. These can be powerful benefits if you’re someone who tends to skirt exercising, or who hasn’t yet found joy when breaking a sweat. Research has even shown that those who work out together may be able to maintain a harder effort without realizing it. That is, you pain threshold may increase to the point that you can take on that dreaded hill and forget all about the muscle burn you would normally focus on when you’re done.
Ready to make a walking date?
Put Yourself on the Market
In a perfect world, your ideal walking partner would live next door or work in the next cubicle over. But if you don’t already have a local friend to recruit, take some steps to find one:
- Go online: Post your partner search to Facebook or your other social media networks, search for walking groups on sites like Meetup.com, or try your hand at Fitness-singles.com—an online dating site with an active-life focus, where you can also find platonic workout partners.
- Try a sporting goods store: Many specialty running shops host group workouts for walkers and runners alike. And if they don’t, chances are they know of existing groups in the area they can refer you to. Look for a bulletin board, or just ask an employee.
- Sign up for a 5k: Even if you’re not in it to be competitive, a road race is a great forum for meeting other walkers around your pace. (Just leave your headphones at home.)
Choose Your Partner Wisely
There is such a thing as Mr. or Ms. Right when it comes to walking partners. These three features can make for a successful pairing:
- Schedules that mesh: If your schedules are inevitably opposite—she runs the morning carpool, and you do the afternoon one; you’re a morning person, but he can barely drag himself out of bed before eight o’clock—it’s not meant to be.
- Compatible fitness levels: Trying to keep up with someone who’s marathon-ready can coax you into doing too much, too soon. Likewise, walking with someone who’s just getting started may keep you from pushing yourself to your full potential.
- Similar workout goals: You may see your walk as part of a focused training program, while your friend may view it as more of a casual means of getting out and moving a little. Chances are you won’t be on the same page about things like distance, speed and more.
Make it Happen
- Choose a convenient location: If one of you has to drive longer than 10 minutes to reach your meet-up spot, your excursions are less likely to happen. Find a spot near both of you, or alternate meeting up in one another’s driveways.
- Confirm your walk: Beyond making sure that you’re still on, texting or calling your partner the night before or morning of your walk can make it less likely that either of you will skip out.
Let Your Words Move You
Chatty walks aren’t just good for catching up. Having a walking partner is like having a built-in heart rate monitor. That’s right: Your ability to carry on a conversation is as good of an indicator of your effort level as that beeping device, whether you’re a seasoned exerciser or a beginner, according to a pair of studies from the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse. Determine the pace you want to keep, and then tune into your speech to find out if you’re meeting the mark:
Low: You cannot only tell your walking partner what your favorite song is—you could sing it (if properly egged on, of course). This will work for a warm-up, but you’ll need to pick up the pace for heart-health benefits.
Moderate: You can comfortably launch into a story about something that happened at work today. Matching or exceeding this pace should be your goal; it’s also a great speed for your cool-down.
Medium hard: You can talk—you’d just rather not say more than a few words. Aim for this pace when you are doing at least three-minute intervals; revert to a moderate pace in between to recover.
Fast: You are really having a hard time talking altogether. This is the perfect pace for doing intervals that are about a minute long; again, switch to a moderate pace in between these spurts.