A regular walking routine is one of the best and easiest things you can do to improve your overall health. If you’re lacking motivation or looking for an extra challenge, training for a charity event like a 5K or 10K is a great way to feel good about lacing up your sneakers when you might not feel like it.
Acts of service help give us purpose and allow us to feel part of a community and goal larger than ourselves. In a normal year, hundreds of people gather for in-person events, fundraising for meaningful causes while enjoying a sense of community. Walkers get special event-day T-shirts, DJs play upbeat music and everyone enjoys a communal meal afterward. This year, many organizations have created virtual walks as a substitute for their usual events, allowing people to participate and raise money during the pandemic.
“The new reality requires new practices,” says Joyce Shulman, the New York-based author of “Walk Your Way to Better.” “While you might miss some aspects, many elements have the potential to be even better.”
Here are six great reasons you should sign up for a virtual walk near you:
In-person walkathons start early in the morning on weekends — and you likely have to travel to get to the starting line. When it’s virtual you can control where and when you walk — and many organizers have created week-long events. “We encouraged people to walk any time of the week during the event in any way that fit into their life during the pandemic,” says Angela McCrum, director of LivingWell Cancer Resource Center. “Some people walked outside with their immediate families, and others got on a treadmill at home.” Other races even allow you to break up the distance into smaller sections, which is great for people with busy schedules. Having the flexibility to choose your start time, terrain and a day when the weather is nice is a big perk of virtual walking events.
When Northwestern Medicine’s LivingWell Cancer Resource Center in the Chicago suburbs held a virtual walk in September, they added a pre-walk event to boost participants’ morale. “We hosted a drive-through car parade,” says McCrum. “The community was encouraged to decorate their cars with signs and streamers to show support and help rally excitement for the virtual event.”
For its series of virtual walks in 18 cities nationwide this fall, the Parkinson’s Foundation precedes events with virtual kickoffs and online tailgate parties. For example, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Washington, DC (RMHCDC) posted a “virtual goodie bag” on their event website, with links to Spotify playlists to listen to while walking, racing bibs that people can print and color at home, photo props for social media posts and more.
Similarly, when the nonprofit Friendship Circle Miami hosted a virtual event in May, they gave participants gear beforehand. “We hand-delivered and allowed for pickup of T-shirts at the Friendship Circle campus, so people could show off their swag while walking virtually,” says Russell Eckert, Friendship Circle Miami’s chief development officer.
Many nonprofits created videos featuring patients, doctors and other experts sharing information about their specific causes and ways that fundraising helps. “All [Parkinson’s Foundation] Moving Day participants are invited to join on their phone or computer and hear real people share their inspiring stories,” says John Lehr, president and CEO of the Parkinson’s Foundation, which is based in New York and Miami. Knowing you are contributing to such a great cause and learning more about where your contribution is going can help you feel motivated to do your best training.
Part of the excitement of in-person walkathons comes from the DJ energizing the crowd. Some virtual events used different tactics to inspire participants. “We were able to arrange for a sports anchor from our local TV [station] to be the official emcee,” says Eckert. “Throughout the day, we live-streamed on Facebook messages of encouragement for walkers to stay motivated and connected with everyone virtually.”
Participation in a virtual walk doesn’t have to be lonely; you can walk with family or friends in your bubble or meet new friends virtually through message boards, Facebook groups and other social media platforms. “Connection is more important than ever during a pandemic, and our virtual walk is just a new way to honor our tradition of celebrating cancer survivors, their family members and their friends,” says McCrum. If your usual walkathon partner lives far away, technology can help connect you. “If you can’t be physically together, pop in your earbuds, give them a call and talk while you walk… It’s not quite as good as actually being together, but it will be better than you think,” says Shulman.
Consider getting creative to inspire people to donate. For instance, “earlier this year, Joan DeYoung of Thousand Oaks, California, hand-sewed masks and offered them to anyone who donated to her Moving Day team,” says Lehr. “She raised $20,243, far beyond her goal of $12,000.” What’s more, walking itself has been proven to boost creativity, so joining a virtual charity walk just might be the key to unlocking your next great breakthrough.
To become more active, try setting a simple goal to increase (and track) your daily steps. Go to “Plans” in the MyFitnessPal app and choose a 28-day step plan to learn tips to boost your activity.