Bottom Line Up Front: Walking is really good for you and the most common human movement. Here are some reasons to make walking part of your lifestyle and ways to implement it.
I used to believe walking was something you did only for essential movement – from the car to the gym for example. It was what old people who couldn’t do more intense exercise did. At one point as a commander, I banned walking from morning physical training because it was not intense enough. I used to always take my dog to a park to throw a ball versus a simple walk around my neighborhood because it bored me so much.
Then I had a major change of heart. As part of a concerted effort to redefine fitness and an effort to improve my dog’s health, I began to walk more. I realized it was something even the most hardcore athletes should do. It was something we were made to do. It is something many of us who work in an office do far too little.
Walking didn’t replace my sprinting, lifting weights, pull-ups, or kettlebell swings. No, walking isn’t exercise (programmed, timed physical exercise) for me. It is just part of my lifestyle now. Here are some reasons why:
- It is natural. Our bodies were meant to walk a lot and occasionally life heavy things and sprint. A lot of people are backwards on this.
- It is a chance to reconnect with nature. Spending time outside is good for you. This is one way to do it.
- It has a lot of physical health benefits. With proper footwear (which means as little footwear as possible or barefoot), you can strengthen your feet, ankles, hips, and back. It helps you process nutrients after eating. On an empty stomach first thing in the morning, it is a good catalyst to tap into body fat for fuel. There are many more.
- It has mental health benefits. Casual strolling has the potential to be a moving meditation, a time to think. Many great ideas in history were generated during a walk. Many great thinkers walked for this purpose every day.
How I Started Integrating It
First, I got a pedometer. Once I decided I needed to stop sitting so much and just move more (outside of exercising), I wanted to quantify! As an exercise physiologist and technology geek, pedometers are made for me. Once I got one, I was very motivated to walk more because I could see my progress in a numerical way. This is just like the phenomenon that happens when you make people write down their food, because of their awareness, they end up eating less. Seeing your step count makes you want to step more or reach a goal. 10,000 steps is mine. My current recommendation is the FitBit Charge if you are in the market.
Second, I found good routes. I found some short ones and some longer ones through exploration around my neighborhood. A got some off-road ones too where I could let the dog off leash to run around.
Third, I got something to listen to. I opted to only listen to podcasts in my car about a year before I started walking regularly, so I had a strong playlist. I added some more to my queue since I had much more listening time on my hands now. I listened to a year’s worth of the Paleo Solution in about a month. I already had some good quality Bluetooth headphones so I was off. Here are my audio recommendations.
Pro Tip: I use the DoggCatcher podcast player for Android and play it at 1.5x speed. That’s 15 minutes of audio in 10 minutes of listening for the mathematically challenged. You can slowly increase it from 1x to 1.3x to 1.5x if it sounds too fast initially. I am used to it now. Regular speed sounds really slow to me now.
Recommendations to Begin Walking More
Like any new behavior, you have to eliminate the barriers to entry.
- Start out with short distances and times. Just go out, walk for 5 minutes casually, then come home. If you get all charged up that each walk needs to be for an hour, you may never start at all. Later on, an hour will seem like nothing.
- Do it regularly enough to form a habit. You can’t do it every few days, maybe, kinda-sorta and expect it to stick. If you resign yourself to doing it on a schedule, you are more likely to make it permanent. At least 5 minutes, every other day is enough. As you get into it, you will add to it.
- Have back-up clothes ready for the weather. If it is raining, so what. If it is a little chilly, have a long sleeve shirt over a tee-shirt to change on the move. Don’t let a non-perfect day stop you from walking.
- Get a buddy. I already had a dog that could walk for hours, so I didn’t need to look. But like any habit, if you are accountable to someone (something) else, you will be more likely to do it. If you dog physically brings the leash to you, it may be enough to spur you outside. If your spouse or friend is meeting you for a walk, you are more likely to go if you maybe otherwise would stay on the couch.
If you already walk and are looking for some ways to spice it up, here are some ideas.
- Turn your walk into an outdoor exploration for your kids. It won’t be a fast walk, but you can get the kids outside with you in a park or trail, and just let them walk around or even make a little scavenger hunt checklist for them (big rock, small rock, 5 different colored leaves, 3 different insects, etc.). Good outdoor time (Vitamin D!), time in nature, walking, plus family time.
- Add some resistance. I don’t walk any longer without a ruck that weighs on average 40lbs. I used to wear a 30lb weight vest like this one. I integrated it into my walks slowly, but now it doesn’t even feel as if I am wearing it. The other day I picked up a big rock and carried it around for the last 10 minutes to my house. I also have a Rogue E sled. Super fun pulling a hundred pounds around. Hard to do with a dog leash in one hand though. The other day I walked for over an hour with an 80lb GoRuck sandbag. I carried it a few different ways to mix it up but mostly just slung over my shoulders. Basic military ruck march with a loaded pack is the most basic form of resistance and some of us already have the supplies handy. Don’t go too heavy too soon. Your support structures (bones, ligaments, tendons, joints) need time to adapt.
- Go off-road. Make sure you pack a few items in case it gets ugly (water and a cell phone are probably the minimum but another person would be good too). Find a piece of woods and start going off the beaten path. Turn around at some point and go back. Make sure it isn’t a hunting area. Wear a reflective belt. They told me these would save your life in Iraq. I am only half kidding.
- Walk somewhere instead of driving. Wouldn’t it be the ultimate functional fitness event to walk to a farmer’s market, buy real food, then carry it back home a few miles away?!?!?!! My closest market is pretty far, but I just may have to try this now that I posted about it. I can find 4 hours on a Saturday for this easily.
How Often Should I Walk? When?
There is no maximum limit or minimum effective dose for this like there is for some exercise. You can definitely run too much or lift weights too much; you can also do it so infrequently as to offer no benefit. Walking isn’t like this. Even one evening stroll every month is healthy for you. Many people walk for an hour or more every single day. I would say for most people, a walk 3-5 days per week for 20-30 minutes is a really good goal to get the most out of it.
The time of day when you will be most likely to walk is the best time of day for you. I favor early morning to spark fat burning and after dinner walks to aide in digestion.
I hope this post will get you motivated to look at walking as I do now: part of a regular healthy, active lifestyle. While you can make it exercise-ish (80lb sandbag carries start to get into this world), it is something fun and easy to do. Making it part of your lifestyle is the hard part. Behavior change is usually the reason we don’t do the things we know we should. Maybe some techniques mentioned here will get you into it.
Question: Do you walk regularly? Why or why not? Post thoughts to comments.
References & Further Reading
- The Definitive Guide to Walking | Mark’s Daily Apple
- Walking: The Human Condition | Mark’s Daily Apple
- Acute Effects of Brisk Walking on Sugary Snack Cravings in Overweight People, Affect and Responses to a Manipulated Stress Situation and to a Sugary Snack Cue: A Crossover Study | PLOS
- Why Walking Helps Us Think | The New Yorker