I first figured out that walking was a really effective exercise when I walked the More/Fitness Half Marathon in Central Park. I was coming back from an injury and didn’t have the endurance to run the race, so I opted to walk 13.1 miles, thinking it would be ‘easy.’ Hah! I ended up with swollen hands, sore feet, and burning quads – I even had to stop in the middle of the race to stretch out (a suggestion from readers when I asked for tips on walking a half marathon). Walking is no stroll in the park!
Since that race, I fell in love with walking for fitness. Don’t get me wrong – running and swimming are still fun, too, but there’s something to be said for walking. I like that it counts as a moderately intense exercise if you walk briskly. If it’s wintertime, you don’t necessarily break a huge, smelly sweat that necessities a post-workout shower, so it’s a great mid-day activity, too. I also appreciate the fact that I can multi-task while walking; I usually take the dog with me, go with a friend, talk on the phone, or listen to a book on tape.
Fun fact: The government recommends that adults do 150 minutes of moderately intense exercise per week. If you go on one 25-minute walk a day, you’re surpassing the minimum!
Now that I’m in my second trimester and have phased out running, I walk about 6 – 9 miles a week. Walking went from being a chore – I have to walk the dog! – to something pleasurable and fun.
Here’s how I made it a daily habit.
A Healthy Coping Mechanism: I usually walk as part of my morning routine to help center myself, and I use walking as a ‘wind-down’ after a busy day. It’s a healthier coping mechanism for stress than, say, drinking four cups of coffee or slamming two huge glasses of wine. When I feel sad or mad or frustrated, I pull on my sneakers and do a lap or two around my block. It makes me feel a lot better, emotionally and physically, than other ‘woe is me’ coping mechanisms.
Break walks in two: Government guidelines say it’s perfectly okay to break up exercise into 10-minute chunks. If you can’t fit a long walk into your daily schedule, try to do two shorter strolls.
Non-smoking breaks: I frequently go on a walks when I need a break from the computer. At my old job, I’d walk during my lunch break, but I’d also occasionally take ‘non-smoking breaks’ and go for a walk – I figured if smokers get to take breaks for their nicotine fix, I could take a break for exercise. No one ever complained. Also, I think it made me a better worker in general – I’d go for a walk right before I felt completely stir-crazy, and I’d come back feeling much more focused. Just be sure to bring your sneakers with you to work!
Find a buddy: Having a dog really, really helps. Well, as long as your dog is more like James than Maggie and actually enjoys going on walks! James motivates me to walk longer and faster than I would otherwise. Of course, there are a million responsibilities that come with adopting a dog (and please consider adopting!), and pets aren’t there just to make you exercise, but it is a pretty nice perk of being a dog owner. If you don’t have a dog, schedule regular walking dates with a human buddy. Nicole and I usually go on one 3-mile walk a week. It’s a good way to catch up, and it’s FREE!
Walk your coffee (or tea): Since I work from home, I’m usually working within 20 minutes of waking up. I usually multi-task and drink my tea or coffee while working, but sometimes, I’m too tired to immediately focus on work and just end up sitting on the couch, sipping my hot drink. On those mornings, I’ve started to take my tea with me on a short walk. It’s much more pleasurable and helps focus me for the day.
Walk before TV: I make sure I squeeze in my evening stroll before flipping on the TV. The Husband usually comes with me, and we use it as an opportunity to catch up on our days. If we sit on the couch and begin to watch HGTV, it’s all over – we’re not getting back up until bedtime.
Consider multi-tasking: Although I love the ‘zone out’ aspect of walking (and exercise in general), one sure-fire way to motivate me to go for a walk is the promise of multi-tasking. I use my walks as an opportunity to call my college girlfriends to talk or I listen to a book on tape. If I’m working on a writing project and have hit writer’s block, I’ll bring a little notebook with me and jot down ideas that come to me as I walk.
Ditch the car: If you live in a walkable neighborhood, walk your errands. We can walk to shops, a market, and the bank. Although it would usually be easier and faster to drive, when I walk to errands, I’m killing two birds with one stone. It makes me feel quite productive!
Are you a walk-lover? What’s your tip for turning walking into an everyday habit?