We see walkers everywhere. You’ve probably seen a single walker make laps around the neighborhood, a group walk through the park, and a couple of friends follow a regular path around the city. Walking, like any exercise, can be performed alone or in a group. Which one is best?
While your daily habits and preferences may inform your decision, there are a number of factors unique to exercise you should take into consideration. These may determine your success, reshape habits, and boost your health.
Groups provide all kinds of support, improve results, keep you on task, and even boost mental health.
Changing habits is hard, especially when you face personal frustrations, fears, or limits you’ve never overcome before. Just as friends and family support you in other parts of your life, the right walking buddy or buddies can make all the difference in your fitness routine.
Simply knowing that you aren’t going out alone allows you to strike out on the path with greater confidence. Witnessing the struggles of others who face your same difficulties also motivates you to continue. Everything is easier when you know you’re not alone.
Walking with a group may give you better results at a faster rate than you could achieve on your own. When you walk alone, you may fall back to your default pace, which usually isn’t the best way to burn calories or build muscle. When you walk with others, however, you must keep pace with the people around you, and since no one wants to be the first to slow down, group walkers tend to move faster.
This ties into the previous point. Sometimes you do things in a group you would talk yourself out of doing by yourself. Watching others sweat beside you makes you feel better about your own exertion, making it easier to keep up a quick pace.
Unfortunately, depending on your walking partner or partners, you may find a group holds you back. If you are the fastest walker in the group, you will have to slow down and hold back so the rest of the group can keep up. If you want to walk as part of a group, be sure to choose walking buddies who move at the same speed.
Blocking out time to hit the trail isn’t always easy. In a world driven by fast food, multitasking, and remote access to every possible service, it can be difficult to take care of yourself the way you should. Even if you make the decision to take up walking, the pressures of your schedule may eventually dissuade you. Even the best intentions fail under the right amount of stress. All it takes is one or two deviations from your walking schedule to develop a prepared set of excuses to just stay on the couch.
By walking with others, you tie your schedule to a group commitment. It’s harder to stay on the couch when your friends keep texting you, and it’s even harder to drop the walking habit when your walking buddies live nearby. By committing to a group, you accept a degree of responsibility to perform as part of a team. You don’t necessarily need goals and competition to be a team, after all.
Even though walking can help you keep your walking schedule, it can also cause your habits to deteriorate. For example, if you try to walk with a large number of people who all work different shifts in different parts of town, you may find regular meet-ups difficult to arrange. This is especially true of those with family commitments, who face additional time-sensitive schedule pressures. In these cases, groups often fall apart and individual members either form smaller groups, choose to walk alone, or simply give up the habit.
Walking improves mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression on its own. Fellow walkers can boost these benefits. If you have difficulty socializing, feel guilty about “wasting time,” or face other obstacles when you try to interact with people, a walking group is a great solution. The exercise boosts your mood, which helps you enjoy light conversation or simply the presence of others. Even if you don’t make fast friends with your fellow walkers, your ties to society help combat many symptoms of mental illness. In some cases, this socialization is also a safety measure.
Is it better to walk alone or in a group? Walking in a group has clear benefits, and very few drawbacks. Simply walking with other people boosts confidence, helps justify a regular change to your schedule, and provides additional mental health benefits you cannot achieve by walking alone. Keeping a quick pace is easier when walking with others of the same fitness level, as you all push each other, even without verbal encouragement.
Most of these benefits depend on your choice of walking partners, however, and choosing poorly can detract from your success. If you already walk faster than your partners, you will have to restrict your pace for their sake. If your group cannot keep to the prearranged schedule, the lost meetings will wear away your resolve. These situations can even damage preexisting relationships, which obviously hurts your mental health.
Walking on your own allows you to make your own schedule. It also allows you to push your pace to your individual ideal speed. You may have the self determination and drive to change your habits on your own. Such driven individuals often chafe under teammates’ restrictions. Silence can also help mental health, and those who practice mindfulness may appreciate a silent nature walk over a chatty march with friends.
Your preexisting preferences, schedule, and fitness level all play a part in your ideal walking conditions. That said, most people will get better results by walking with a regular group. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with walking alone, however. Exercise is a very personal habit, and although most walkers improve habits better with friends, you may find walking alone helps you reach your own goals more efficiently.