‘99 Walks’ Helps Moms Find Walking Buddies and Combat Loneliness
The events of 2020 have slowed down some forms of physical activity, but across the U.S. many have found solace and calm by simply taking walks. Walking is the perfect activity to keep active while social distancing, but for women such as Joyce Shulman, this isn’t news — it’s part of a daily routine she’s developed into a business all her own.
Shulman is the founder and CEO of the walking app 99 Walks. Her most recent endeavor is to combat loneliness and improve fitness through the simple act of encouraging moms to walk together.
“I was a lawyer, but realized I wasn't happy,” she tells CircleAround. Shulman quit after a managing partner at her law firm said she couldn’t wear pants to work. “When was I happy? When in nature and walking.” This realization inspired 99 Walks.
Shulman wanted to focus on the things most important to her: family, community, and empowering women suffering from “martyr mom syndrome” — the burnout moms often face while juggling careers, children, household work, and other daily tasks.
Shulman found walking to be therapeutic and appreciated the physical benefits that came from it, too. She knew other women might feel the same, so she began working on a program that would encourage moms to walk together.
“Walking can fuel productivity and performance,” she says. It can also help women combat loneliness, which has become a huge focus of Shulman’s work today.
The app works similarly to other fitness-tracking apps, where users can see real-time mapping of their walks, create milestones based on how much walking they’ve done, or want to do, etc. Users can see how many miles have been walked since first use, and save their favorite walks to revisit. But best of all, users have access to an exclusive 99 Walks community, where they can support each other and link up to take future walks together. The 99 Walks Facebook group has over 7,000 active members from around the world.
“Our online community is empowering and supportive,” Shulman explains. “My goal is to help people feel less lonely and feel empowered in their mind, body, soul.”
Biological Cure to Loneliness
99 Walks conducted their own study on the subject of walking and loneliness, and found that, from the 2,300 women surveyed, those who “regularly walk with their friends are 2.5 times less likely to feel lonely often.” Her research is backed by other studies that show how physical activity, such as walking, increases levels of oxytocin. This hormone can actually make us feel closer and more connected with others as a result. "So when you walk with a friend, your biology helps foster a deeper, more meaningful connection,” says Shulman.
For those who don’t quite know where to start, the app has a matching service that makes it easy for women to get together in their own neighborhoods. This is facilitated through the program’s 99 Walks Challenge. Each month, users set a personal mileage goal and have approximately 30 days to achieve it.
Women are encouraged to walk as part of a team; previously, this was mainly done with women living in similar areas, but now there are virtual teams women can join within the app, as well. Solo walking is also encouraged, if that’s what the user prefers.
Shulman’s experience in business and leading mompreneurs makes her a coveted speaker, where she shares tactics for beating burnout, fueling creativity, goal crushing, how walking can fuel productivity and performance, and more. Shulman even gave a TEDx Talk about how walking together can help combat loneliness. She hosts a podcast called The Weekly Walk and creates inspirational content 99 Walks members can refer to, both at home and during their walking sessions. Within the app, users can cool down with meditation, or take guided fitness classes, as well. All of this was developed by Shulman’s team of walking experts.
“I hope to get 1 million moms moving by the end of each year,” she tells CircleAround. Taking a walk can be the first step to maintaining mental health, and Shulman has created a way to keep women on track through the power of shared experiences.