73-year-old real estate agent Carolyn Francis has a knack for bringing people together and loves walking. In 2003, she moved from Minneapolis to Sarasota, where she ran a matchmaking group called Adventure Seekers.
As she was exploring her new hometown, she wanted to make friends, so she started her own hiking group.
“About two or three people came first,” says Francis. “That was before the days of social media, and people found out about things through word of mouth.” Now Sarasota Walkers has more than 3,000 members on a website called Meetup where people can sign up for various groups for free.
Thirty to 40 people are now showing up at the same time to make friends or do some cardio.
Walking is good for your heart, your circulation and the mobility of your joints and muscles. Since it has little impact, it doesn’t cause the injuries that can occur while running. It also has a beneficial effect on the brain. A study from the University of Maryland showed that a single session of light exercise, such as walking, increased activation of the brain circuits associated with memory. A 2019 study by Jama Psychiatry found that walking for an hour every day may reduce the risk of major depression. Tracking your progress with a fitness watch or exercise machine will also reduce your risk of depression by 26 percent.
Plus, walking is cheap and accessible. All you need is a pair of decent shoes before you step out the front door and get some fresh air. All of these benefits have made walking one of the most popular fitness trends in 2021, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. In a survey of more than 75,000 people worldwide, the college found outdoor activities like walking ranked # 4 on the top 20 trends and group exercise # 17.
Sarasota Walkers hosts walks up to three times a week. Each walk is approximately three miles and allows participants to walk at their own pace. Francis says the group has a fast-paced crowd on the Esplanade and Jetty Walk in Venice Tuesday nights and a more sociable group over the Ringling Bridge on Thursdays, but anyone can join in at any pace. The group met on the beach for evening walks followed by a picnic. Each new member can attend a special brunch meeting to familiarize themselves with the members, Francis, and the volunteer hosts of each walk.
“The best thing about this group is that anyone can join,” says Francis. “Young or old, single or married, you don’t have to be a fitness junkie. You can just start your fitness journey, or if you are injured or recovering from surgery you can join in too. “
During the pandemic, Francis experienced the benefits of walking with a group. Her daughter-in-law Patty took Francis’ teenage grandchildren to her home for evening walks and time together. She also sees other family members on her walks.
Although the Sarasota Walkers had to cancel formal walks during the height of Covid-19, Francis realized the regulars were sticking to them and returned to the group with even more glee when the people got back together.
“You can go for a walk outside, be part of nature and meet up with your fellow hikers,” says Francis. “Couples got to know each other through this group; People have become good friends. One person even went through chemotherapy and we all helped her get to her appointments and brought her food. “
If you want to get on the walking trend, lace up your sneakers and join a running group. Or join a runners club in Sarasota. Click here to learn more.