Nine Ways to Get Others Walking

Getting people walking can help build support for the creation of more walkable places, decrease air pollution and traffic congestion, and improve physical health, along with other benefits. Research has shown that creating places for walking (such as walking trails) and other forms of physical activity may be associated with increased physical activity. Below is a list of ideas that a walking coalition or partnership may select from to get going. If there is not yet an established coalition in your community, then find out more about how to build a coalition. The ideas below can be used to inspire and motivate people to get out of their cars and walk.

A group of women walk past sidewalk seating outside a restaurant in Seattle, Wash.1. Distribute Walking Maps

Neighborhood or business district walking maps are a good way to introduce residents to the idea of walking to local destinations. Walking maps can be used to build knowledge of local geography, encourage people to experience things on foot rather than by car, and provide alternative routes for getting to places on foot. Walking maps can show places of interest for shopping, dining, or exploring other businesses in an area, such as a walking map to antique shops in a downtown area or other places of interest. Key elements that a map should include are:

  • Schools, parks, libraries, community centers, playgrounds and any other neighborhood destination.
  • Routes that neighbors might not know about (e.g. a walking trail along a park, a staircase that serves as a short cut).
  • Viewpoints and/or benches (places to sit and rest).
  • Distance (in miles or in the number of minutes it takes to walk); people who are not used to walking may not be able to estimate how long it will take to walk somewhere.
  • Where traffic signals are located so that people know where best to cross wide streets.

2. Organize a Neighborhood Walk

Building a stronger sense of community helps overcome many community barriers to walking. One way to bring neighbors together and expose residents to the experience of walking in their neighborhood is to organize a neighborhood walk. Some examples include:

  • A walk to visit a new park or pathway.
  • A walk to an event (neighborhood fair, local coffee shop).
  • A nighttime holiday walk to view decorations, a fitness walk, or walking just for the sake of walking.

3. Make Walking Part of the Business: Walk at work programs

Partner with large employers to design and publicize routes to walk on the business campus, give time for walking during the day or foster walking groups. One example is UC Berkeley's walking groups for employees. Some employers also offer incentives for physical activity through their insurance provider.

For example, Blue Cross/Blue Shield members in North Carolina's State Health Plan can earn free gifts like backpacks, water bottles, blankets, and tents as they log their activity. The American Heart Association provides support to business-based walking programs through incentive items, printable material and recognition.

4. Offer Incentives and Buddies: Mileage clubs

Use online and community-based programs that encourage walking and provide incentives for reaching mileage goals either individually or in groups. For example, see the America on the Move program or Texas's Walk Across a State program sponsored by cooperative extensions.

5. Provide a Guide: Walking maps

Provide maps of local attractions as well as locations of practical amenities such as restrooms. For inspiration, see examples from Feet First and Walk Arlington. Add walking routes to the Trails website and invite community members to view them. Walking maps can also include the walking time required to reach a variety of popular destinations.

Residents of all ages enjoy Portland's Sunday Parkways program. 6. Make it Appealing: Special events

Hold a Car Free Day event. Hold a walk to raise money or enjoy an aspect of the community. This might be an art walk or fundraising walk. See March of Dimes Walk or the Walk for Alzheimer's program for starting ideas—there are many other worthwhile organizations that use walks to raise money. The American Volkssport Association offers organized walking routes, special walking events, and a point accrual system.

7. Involve Children and Families: Walk to School Day program

Walking to school used to be very common for most U.S. children. The concept of walking to school is once again gaining attention. The value that walking to school brings to children in terms of exercise and in mental alertness makes walking to school a very good investment. Comprehensive information on safe routes to school programs can be found at the National Center for Safe Routes to School web site.

8. Add a Little History: Educational and historical walks

One example of educational and historical walking programs is run by Walk Boston, which offers educational and guided walking tours, some of which focus on historical areas of the city.

9. Start a Walking Club for Senior Citizens

According to the Senior Journal, researchers discovered that mobility loss in older persons who do not exercise can be reduced by having an active lifestyle. Recommendations for exercise such as 1.5 to 2 hours of walking per week can help to decrease mobility loss with aging. An accessible walking route is important for active seniors, but encouragement also plays a role. A walking club could be informally organized among neighbors, or more formally organized through a community club or senior center. Working with a local senior center or residential facility on improving pedestrian facilities can boost your support network in lobbying for pedestrian improvements in your neighborhood.

In areas where it may be too cold or too hot, or when experiencing bad weather, some walking clubs have formed inside covered malls for walking before the shops open.

Need More Ideas?

For strategies to increase physical activity for entire communities, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Other sites have ideas on how individuals can get motivated to walk.