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Walking Dates With Girlfriends Changed My Life

Here’s why they’re way better than brunch.

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A graphic of four women walking outdoors together.
Irene Rinaldi
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[2021 Update: Follow current CDC guidelines to protect against coronavirus transmission.]

So what if the off-again, on-again drizzle threatened to pour. Sandy, one of my good, good girlfriends, and I met up in our Harlem neighborhood early one summer morning. We were determined to keep a date scheduled more than a month prior. Sure, we could have popped inside an uptown spot for tea or light breakfast, but we had agreed that this meeting would be a quick walk-and-talk. And so, with umbrellas shielding us against the elements, we gamely headed across a park and toward the Hudson River path, dodging puddles and stepping lively.

When nearly every waking moment seems devoted to work, caregiving or volunteering, it can be a real challenge to make important connections. Instead of trying to find time for lunch with friends and colleagues, I began asking if any preferred to walk and talk for a bit. Nearly all chose moving over munching. In addition to getting our workout in, we all sought to catch up and check in with each other.

It started a few years ago when Dallas, a friend and colleague, invited me to skip the vegan restaurant we had intended to try out. I followed her lead over trails into the woodsy upper reaches of Central Park, where she introduced me to one of the park’s five waterfalls. As the street traffic’s din gave way to the crunch of leaves underfoot, I slowly forgot that I was in the middle of Manhattan. I was hooked.

These days, I’m more likely to see a working lunch as a walking lunch. In my walk-and-talks with colleagues and girlfriends, I’ve covered miles and miles along the riverfront, through Harlem and Soho and Midtown, and around the track at my community athletic center.

As a health coach and psychotherapist, this habit of mine is one I love to recommend. We all know that walking has huge mental and physical benefits. They include weight loss, lower risk of chronic physical problems, reduced depression and anxiety and even a boost in creativity. And because we humans are hardwired for connection, social walking leads to improved social contact, which is critical for a longer and higher-quality life.

Walking outdoors connects us not only with our companions, but also with the universe and with ourselves. I’ve found no better way to put life into perspective and understand my place in it than to walk among the squirrels and chipmunks, to see the butterflies soaring, hear the birds chatting, the trees shh-shing, the earth breathing. Walking in community also links us sisters to our African roots, invoking the spirit of Ubuntu, the Zulu concept that roughly translates to “I am what I am because of who we all are.”

Walking even inspires activism: With nearly 100,000 members, Girl Trek evokes civil rights history, encouraging Black women to organize, mobilize and promote wellness and safe, walkable spaces in our communities.

But the walk-and-talk isn’t just for sisterfriends. My hubby, Rodney, and I often take an evening stroll after dinner. Our W&T’s are our way of keeping fit, as well as keeping focused on each other.

About 45 minutes and 2 miles into our walk that summer morning, the clouds parted and the sun came out to greet us, and Sandy and I turned toward home. Umbrellas at ease and spirits lifted, we hugged and said our goodbyes, a little damp and a little winded, but all caught up and already looking forward to our next adventure.