Walking Groups Are Really Good for You

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A lot of research has shown that one way to increase the odds of sticking with a fitness regimen is to bring in a friend, whether a gym buddy or a running partner. It simply makes it harder to skip a day when you know someone is going to be at the gym waiting for you. A new meta-study on the effectiveness of walking groups published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine drives this point home, and it suggests an easy way for couch potatoes to start exercising.

Sarah Hanson and Andy Jones of the Norwich Medical School at the University of East Anglia examined 42 studies of walking groups involving 1,843 participants (a common method for canceling out some of the statistical noise that comes with any single study), and they found that those who participated in such groups saw statistically significant improvements in blood pressure, resting heart rate, body-fat percentage, cholesterol levels, lung function, and depression scores. "The evidence was less clear" when it came to walking groups’ effects on waist circumference and certain other mental-health and metabolic markers, but there weren’t any signs of the groups causing any negative outcomes, either.

The key takeaway here is that, well, walking groups are good. And since they’re both enjoyable (at least if you’ve got a fun group) and not particularly high-intensity, they could be a very good way for inactive people to move toward a slightly healthier lifestyle — a transition, recent research suggests, that can make a big difference when it comes to long-term health prospects.