Healthy Lifestyles: Join a Walking Club for a Happier You

We all know walking and an active lifestyle are good for us, but it’s just so easy to make excuses. With these clubs, accountability, socialization and good company make healthy choices even easier.

Daily walks can have a positive impact on one’s physical and mental health, and walking with others can also foster an increased sense of safety, says Connie Kuntz, of 815 Outside.

Temperatures are high, the days are longer and the sun is shining bright. Summer is in the air. So, what better way to embrace the season than by socializing and burning calories?

Numerous studies show a daily stroll offers health benefits such as improved cardiovascular health, weight management and reduced stress levels. Did you know it can also extend your lifespan? In fact, walking roughly 7,000 steps every day decreased the risk of death by more than half in a study of middle-aged adults, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

There’s also a positive impact on one’s mental health. Because walking is an aerobic activity, it helps to lower stress hormone levels through increased breathing and heart rate, which also lessens tension in muscles like the heart, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The benefits are many, but motivation is another story. For those who need a little incentive to get started, walking clubs are a good reason to get moving. They exist in many places, including neighborhoods, community groups, social media connections and locations like the mall.

In Winnebago County, the 815 Outside initiative offers a safe and fun way for people to get moving. Backed by organizations including park districts and forest preserves, 815 Outside promotes many activities that connect people with the natural world.

The group offers free, weekly walks that encourage people to explore new places, enjoy nature, get active and make connections. Guided morning hikes in Byron and lunchtime loops at Rockford’s Midway Village Museum are just the start.

“Besides boosting your mood and health, one of the biggest benefits of walking and hiking clubs is that they project an incredibly positive message into the community that we are a safe city,” says Connie Kuntz, an 815 Outside AmeriCorps member. “Not only are we physically and mentally healthier, but we’re safer together.”

For many of the people who join Kuntz on her weekly hikes and walks, it’s community – and the accompanying safety and togetherness – that keeps them coming back.

“So many people, especially women, will tell me they don’t feel safe walking alone,” says Kuntz. “They appreciate having a group and going out together and exploring something in the city or country that they wouldn’t do by themselves. As someone who loves Rockford, I am bound and determined to show what’s beautiful about it.”

To join an 815 Outside hike or find out about some of the group’s other activities, visit

Unlike a gym, walking doesn’t require a membership, nor does it necessitate the use of expensive equipment or a special set of skills. While you can always join a local outdoor group, you can also start your own. All you need is a pair of reliable shoes, an open mind and some dependable companions, Kuntz says.

“If you are interested in starting your own hiking club, take one person you trust and go,” says Kuntz. “If the nucleus is somebody you trust, then it’s going to build hopefully exponentially because this is such a positive thing to do for the community, not just for the individual.”