Walking in groups improves fitness, health and mental health
20 January 2015
Joining a walking group is one of the best and easiest ways to
get wide ranging health benefits, with virtually no side effects,
according to a study published online in the British Journal of
In addition members find it relatively easy to stick with this
type of exercise regime.
Researchers from the University of East Anglia assessed existing
studies from a wide range of sources on the physical and mental
health consequences of joining an outdoor walking group for adults,
and published up to the end of 2013.
They found 42 studies, involving almost 2000 people, which met
all their criteria. Three-quarters of the studies had been published
within the past decade, suggesting growing interest in the potential
health benefits of walking groups.
The studies involved participants from 14 different countries,
with a wide range of long term conditions, including arthritis,
dementia, diabetes, fibromyalgia, obesity/overweight, mental health
issues, and Parkinson’s disease. Analysis of the pooled data showed
that walking groups have wide ranging benefits, above and beyond
making people more physically active.
People who joined these groups registered statistically
significant falls in average blood pressure, resting heart rate,
body fat, weight, and total cholesterol. The evidence was less
clear-cut for reductions in other risk factors for ill health, such
as waist circumference, fasting blood glucose, and blood fats.
But walkers also experienced improvements in lung power, overall
physical functioning, and general fitness, and they were less
depressed than before they started walking regularly.
Three quarters of all the participants stuck with the group, and
there were few side effects to speak of, apart from a handful of
falls on roots or wet ground.
The researchers point out that in England, at least, 29% of
adults do less than 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every
week, and almost one in 10 don’t even manage to walk for more than
five minutes at a time over a month.
Efforts by doctors to bump up total physical activity levels
often fall on stony ground, they explain.
“Walking groups are effective and safe with good adherence and
wide ranging health benefits,” they write. “They could be a
promising intervention as an adjunct to other healthcare, or as a
proactive health-promoting activity.”
And the social aspect of walking groups may help to foster
positive attitudes towards physical activity, they suggest.
Is there evidence that walking groups have health benefits? A
systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports
Medicine. Online First doi 10.1136/bjsports-2014-094157