4 Reasons Why You Should Start A Walking Group

Winter is here.

And if you’re anything like me this means that as the days get shorter, the length of time spent in pyjamas after work watching Dinner Date increases.

You know it’s wrong. You can vaguely recollect a time when you wanted to go out: when outside was warmer than inside and your summer wardrobe made sense. But now the light is fading and with it has gone the urge to leave the comfort of the sofa.

At the start of this year I found myself questioning the benefits of my hermetic winter lifestyle. As a self-employed writer living in the age of Ocado I could *technically* never leave my flat: but this isn’t exactly sociable, is it? Nor is it very healthy for someone who gets so much pleasure and fulfilment from being outdoors. And so I started Bristol Girl Hikers.

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It all began one icy February afternoon when I went against everything my mother ever taught me and headed into the woods with a group of total strangers I’d met on the internet (though they were all women from the City Girl Network - it was fine, Mum).

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We walked, we chatted and we enjoyed the fresh air together. We even got a bit of exercise on the steep hills. Since then, Bristol Girl Hikers has gone from strength to strength, encouraging many more women in Bristol to get outdoors at the weekends.

As winter melted into spring our walks became more adventurous: we tackled mountains together, witnessed glorious sunsets, walked behind waterfalls, hit the beach and explored our beautiful city. At the same time we’ve made new friends and shared memorable experiences with like-minded, awesome women.

If you are sitting at home now feeling that you need to get out more – both socially and actively – here’s 4 reasons why starting a walking group might be the best thing you’ve ever done.

1. You’ll make new friends

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OK, this is a biggie.

In my own experience, making friends as a self-employed, work-from-home thirty-something is not the simple matter of getting drunk with your workmates or flatmates that it used to be. You no longer have ready-made environments in which to build new relationships. And you’re busier than ever before so trying to schedule friend-dates becomes a WhatsApp nightmare.

Walking in a group is perfect for those who are less comfortable launching themselves into unknown social situations. You don’t have to stand like a lost faun in a crowded room at a party, holding a drink, smiling nervously and eyeing up potential conversation targets. You have something else to think about when you walk: conversation is almost secondary. Sometimes (up those steep hills) it’s actively discouraged.

Most importantly, even a team of strangers can become friends after they’ve achieved something together: a mountain peak, a multi-day hike or even a simple stroll to a new part of the city. It’s far more fun pushing your personal limits to the max with others and you’ll never forget the people you were with when you did it.

2. You’ll get fitter without even noticing

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Walking is not like running or going to the gym (though if that’s your thing then I salute you). You don’t necessarily have to make the effort to don your active-wear and head off to smash some personal best. You won’t have to queue for the treadmill or feel self-conscious about your body or your lack of fitness.

I don’t notice my fitness improving as a hiker. Yet I feel fitter and healthier now than I have done for a long time. This year I’ve scaled all three National Peaks and completed a 22-mile solo charity hike along the Jurassic Coast in a heatwave. These things were unthinkable last year and my only ‘training’ for them was getting out into the beautiful Welsh hills with Bristol Girl Hikers.

Walking is a gentle sport. If you do it enough and make it part of your lifestyle it can have huge benefits on your physical fitness.

3. You’ll learn more about where you live

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Just moved to a new city? The best way to explore is to walk – preferably with other people who know where they are going. Even if you’ve lived there all your life you will always discover something new about your city on a purposefully slow and mindful local walk. Alternatively, if you are like me and you have moved to the big city from the countryside it can also be comforting to know that, wherever you are, there is some area of outstanding natural beauty just a short drive or train-ride away. And don’t think that you’ll have to go there alone. There’s so much out there waiting for you to explore – and you’ll be surprised at how many Birmingham Girls, Manchester Girls and other City Girls will want to join you.

4. You’ll forget about your trouble

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Walking is a form of mindfulness. When you go for a walk you can immerse yourself in your surroundings and bring your mind into the present moment. On strenuous hikes you can often think about little else but pressing on and getting to the top of that steep incline (and you can reward yourself with your favourite snack when you get to the top!). We are so often told that mindfulness and exercise are beneficial for our mental health. Personally, I have found that walking is the perfect combination of the two and I am never more mindful and happy than when out on a hike in the wilderness. And, let’s be honest, there’s no better remedy to a crappy week than hanging out with the girls is there?

And the best part?

It’s easy. All it took was a Facebook post. So stop making excuses - lace up your boots, put on your waterproofs, grab some girls and start walking!

Charlotte is the founder of Bristol Girl Hikers @girlhikers and you can chat to her on Twitter or Instagram, @charlotte_hikes.