The following themes can be used to plan your Mood Walks sessions. Walks should be reasonably challenging for participants, and should gradually increase in difficulty as confidence and physical fitness improve. Feel free to change the order or to modify the following outlines to meet your group’s needs.
Week One: An Introduction to the Group
For your first week, focus on ensuring all group members feel comfortable and have a positive first experience. Be sure to start with an icebreaker activity. Use your first walk to observe participants, considering their physical fitness levels, apparent mood and energy levels, and social interactions. At the end of the group, hold a check-in about how the walk went: ask about the pace and the route, using this feedback to plan the next session. See if participants noticed any change in their mood and energy levels after the walk, and congratulate participants for their efforts.
Your first walk is also an important opportunity to focus on group safety, especially if you are walking near busy roads. See “Planning Your Mood Walks Group—Choosing an Accessible Location and Route” for details.
Week Two: Focus on Posture
Spend some time before the second group walk reflecting on how participants felt after the first walk and whether anyone felt stiff or sore afterwards. After the warm-up, briefly review good posture when walking, and encourage participants to notice their posture throughout the walk. Here are some tips about posture.
- Head: Centred, with ears over shoulders. Chin parallel with the ground. Eyes looking forward 2–3 metres.
- Shoulders: Down and back, not forward. Think tall.
- Chest: Think of broadening the chest.
- Arms: Swinging naturally and comfortably. Arm-swing should not cross the centre of the body.
- Legs: A comfortable and efficient stride length. To increase speed, take quicker, shorter steps instead of reaching for a longer stride.
- Feet: Toes pointing forward. Heel touches the ground first, then your weight rolls forward to the ball of the foot.
Check with participants during the cool-down to hear if they noticed anything about their form or posture during the walk. Challenge participants to try to fit in a short walk (with good posture!) on their own time, sometime during the coming week.
Week Three: Trail Etiquette
Take a walk on a local trail, perhaps at a local conservation area. Use the opportunity to discuss trail etiquette and “Leave No Trace” principles. Here are some trail etiquette tips to share, courtesy of Hike Ontario:
- Stay on existing trails.
- Avoid very wet and muddy conditions.
- Know the local rules, regulations, and concerns about the area.
- Obey gate closures and signs.
- Slower traffic has the right-of-way: yield to those who are going uphill.
- Keep to the right, except when passing others.
- Get the owners’ permission to walk on private land.
- Do not disturb trees, plants, or wildlife.
- Leave the trail cleaner than you found it.
Week Four: Mindfulness—A Walking Meditation
Walking can be a way to incorporate mindfulness and meditation techniques. Before beginning this day’s walk, encourage participants to bring their attention into the present moment, using all their senses. The idea is to quiet the thoughts of the mind and to experience a sense of calm. You might guide participants to focus on each of the following aspects during different moments throughout the walk, while limiting conversation.
- Breath: Focus on the experience of breathing. Notice the rate and depth of breath, the temperature of the air, the filling and contraction of the lungs.
- Stepping: Try to feel each phase of movement in the feet and legs—pushing off with the foot, lifting and swinging of the legs, and each foot contacting the ground. Notice the rate of stepping.
- Senses: Take in all of the sights in the environment—colours, textures, lights, objects, vegetation, animals. Notice different scents along the way. Feel the temperature of the air, the feeling of a breeze on the skin. Be aware of bodily sensations throughout the walk—the feeling of the heart beating, or of blood pumping throughout the body.
Afterward, ask how participants experienced mindfulness throughout the walk, and if they use mindfulness techniques in other settings.
Week Five: Mix It Up
At this point, hopefully, participants will be developing some familiarity and comfort with each other. Invite participants to get to know at least one new group member this week. Challenge participants to walk with someone new: find out where they are from and if they have a favourite walking trail or route, past or present. Invite participants to share what they have learned during the cool-down.
Week Six: A Scavenger Hunt
Provide teams of participants with a checklist of items to look for on your walk, and reward the most successful team! Here is a sample list of nature items that could be looked for:
- A feathered friend
- Animal tracks
- Another person walking
- Dead tree
- Flowering plant
- Fork in the path
- Furry friend
- Hole or tunnel dug by an animal
- Leaf with pointed edges
- Leaf with rounded edges
- Plant bearing fruits or nuts
The scavenger hunt can be adapted to suit more urban settings: look for cars, signs, or certain-coloured houses; or go people-watching, looking for couples, people wearing red, or people walking dogs.
Week Seven: How Walkable Is Your Neighbourhood?
If appropriate for your group, go for a walk around your community’s centre and see how pedestrian-friendly it is. Pay attention to the condition of the sidewalks, street crossings, traffic and noise concerns (there are various community walkability checklists and tools online you could use). Compare observations at the end, and discuss changes that would make the neighbourhood more walkable. If participants are keen to take action, the group could inform local recreation centres, health departments, traffic engineering or public works departments, or the media.
Week Eight: Learning about Your Community
Make this walk a learning experience. Find out if your group is interested in local history or flora and fauna. Students or volunteers may have knowledge to share, or consider inviting a guest speaker to lead your group.
Week Nine: Planning with a Map
Before this week’s walk, work with the group or several group members to use a map or online mapping website such as Map My Walk to plan a route your group will take. Estimate the total distance of the walk, the difficulty level, and the time it will take your group to complete it. Time your walk and see how accurate you were.
Week Ten: A Special Outing
Revisit a favourite route chosen by participants and extend the walk, perhaps sharing a picnic afterwards. Have a group discussion about how participants use walking outside of the group and places they might like to walk in future.