I’m a walker—that’s what I do for recreation, relaxation, and relationship building. I think the practice started during my childhood days when we often took family walks on Sundays. We lived on a farm where everyone—adults and children—were busy working most of the day. In addition to the daily tasks of preparing meals and cleaning house, there were animals to be cared for, crops to plant and harvest, and then gardening and canning to be done. But Sunday was a day of rest; and a typical Sunday afternoon activity for us was taking a walk together. I remember these walks with fondness, as they gave us a time to be together in a relaxed sort of way.
Later, after I became a mother, I introduced my daughters to the joys of walking. I started when they were still quite young—even before they were doing much walking on their own. I loaded them in a little red wagon and out the door we went. Sometimes, we just walked through the neighborhood; other times, we went to a park. We continued to walk as they got older, and I treasured these special times together. Sometimes, we’d begin our walk by talking about the weather or upcoming events, but soon our conversations turned to bigger issues in our personal lives and the larger world. I realize now that those walks became a path to a better understanding and appreciation of each other.
I’m now a grandmother and still capitalize on the relationship-building benefits of taking walks together. It was during a walk that my eight-year-old grandson told me that the kids at school didn’t play with him anymore. When I picked Ronald up from school—as I often did on Wednesdays—I noticed that something seemed to be bothering him. He only shrugged his shoulders when I asked him about it. So I invited him to take a walk with me. He was soon talking about being left out as the other kids played together at recess. By the time we got home, Ronald was smiling and even sharing some ideas about what he could do at school to make new friends or reconnect with old ones. I believe that had we not taken that walk together, Ronald may never have shared his concerns with me. There’s something about side-by-side walking that feels less intimidating and more inviting than face-to-face discussions.
Walking has helped me establish and strengthen relationships outside the family, as well. Lunch-hour walks with a co-worker paved the way for a friendship that we’ve carried with us into our retirement years. And after retiring and moving to a new community, I got to know people and made friends by joining a walking group. Such groups are now common in many places. There are walking “meet ups” in cities and countries around the world. While some focus on fitness, they all include socializing.
“The walking sticks”—a senior walking group in Toronto—meets weekly, often making different cultural or natural places around the city their destination. This group of six has been walking together for years, and, as one member said, “We’re not about to slow down, now. It’s too much fun.” While they may have a specific destination in mind, the real beauty, they say, is in the togetherness they experience as they walk.
Another group of elderly women in Spain walk together every week. They call themselves “las chicas” (the girls) and walk in solidarity to claim a sense of belonging in their community. By their very presence, they call attention to the need for improved infrastructure services, including more pedestrian-friendly places to walk. For them, going for a walk is an opportunity to get out of the house, put on nice clothes (which they do), be seen outside of the domestic space where they spend most of their time, and enjoy each other’s company. They may be isolated in their homes, but once they meet up with the other “las chicas,” isolation fades away and togetherness takes its place.
Going for a walk (the Spanish “paseo”) is actually a common practice in Spain. Typically, the paseo is taken after lunch or before dinner whenever the weather allows. Walkers often join arms and walk in groups with both adults and children participating. Most cities in Spain have big paseos—that is, avenues for groups to walk under the shade of trees. These paseos become common ground where people can interact with each other and form relationships.
One of the things I really like about walking is the idea that it’s free, can be done almost anywhere, doesn’t require a rigid schedule, and offers multiple benefits. Relationship building is certainly one of its benefits. This benefit may come, in part, from that “good feeling” you get from having an “us time,” away from other distractions and demands on your time. As you walk, there’s a togetherness you establish with your walking partner or partners. You’re on the same path and moving at the same pace. And as you walk and talk, it’s not unusual to discover that it’s not only the path and the pace that you have in common. Your thoughts and feelings may fall in step, as well.