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Group walking as a “lifeline”: Understanding the place of outdoor walking groups in women's lives

Morris, Stephanie; Guell, Cornelia; Pollard, Tessa M.

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Stephanie Morris

Cornelia Guell


Organised walking groups are increasingly widespread in the UK and elsewhere and have been shown to have many benefits for participants. They tend to attract more women than men, but little is known about how and why walking groups ‘recruit’ women. This is of particular importance given observed inequalities in physical activity participation by gender, in favour of men. To explore women's participation in walking groups, we conducted ethnographic fieldwork (in May–August 2017) with women members of five different walking groups in deprived areas of north-east England. Participant observation and informal ‘go along’ interviewing were conducted on 25 group walks, and 20 semi-structured interviews were undertaken. Fieldnotes and interview transcripts were analysed thematically. This paper presents five portraits to show how the identified themes played out in women's lives. For many of the women, the act of moving and socialising together in outdoor environments was highly valued. We show how walking groups found a place within the lives of women, becoming spaces of sharing, healing and enjoyment and acting as a positive resource or “lifeline”, often around time-spaces of change (biographical disruptions). We contribute new understandings of how walking groups work by showing how women's reasons for participating were intimately intertwined with their life circumstances and relationships, thus furthering the ongoing theoretical shift from investigating health ‘behaviours’ to health ‘practices’. We conclude that walking groups work well for some people at particular times in their lives, especially (but not only) for older women and, more generally, that life transitions offer an opportunity for interventions to enhance health if they work within the lives of prospective participants.


Morris, S., Guell, C., & Pollard, T. M. (2019). Group walking as a “lifeline”: Understanding the place of outdoor walking groups in women's lives. Social Science & Medicine, 238, Article 112489.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Aug 9, 2019
Online Publication Date Aug 10, 2019
Publication Date Oct 31, 2019
Deposit Date Aug 20, 2019
Publicly Available Date Aug 10, 2020
Journal Social science and medicine
Print ISSN 0277-9536
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 238
Article Number 112489


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