What do each of these pieces of advice have in common?
- Take 10,000 steps per day
- Eat 5 servings of fruit and vegetables per day
- Drink 2 liters of water per day
Quite obviously, that they’re easy to understand and simple to implement.
Why is it then that so many who are looking to improve their overall health and fitness ignore them?
I’m here to advocate the first of these well-known and often-ignored fitness ‘hacks’ — the power of a daily walk for the benefits it brings to our fitness and wellbeing.
Sometimes the simple things are the most effective things. Yet thanks to human nature, these are the most often overlooked things too.
We like to convince ourselves that our own challenges are more complex than anyone else’s. We assume that our problems demand complicated solutions.
We buy into the latest and greatest regimes and innovations — we’d be short-changing ourselves if we didn’t invest in them. We overlook the free, basic solutions believing they must be too simple or not worth our time.
Such was the case for me when it came to walking. I used to view it as a means of getting from A to B. It had no place in my life either for leisure or as part of my fitness regime.
For the last four years though, I’ve incorporated a walk into my daily routine and experienced many positive effects as a result. I want to share these with you now. If walking isn’t already part of your life I hope to convince you to make it so.
1 — There are virtually NO barriers to getting started
I take my daily walk soon after I’ve woken up, meditated and had a quick cup of coffee. I aim to walk for about an hour, covering between 2 and 3 miles. I’m usually home, showered and logged-on for work by 8.30am.
I usually head out on trails rather than paved sidewalks so I prefer walking boots, but running shoes are just as good. A raincoat is essential too, especially here in the rainy UK!
That’s all there is to it.
If you want to track your progress towards 10,000 steps each day (my daily walk usually accounts for at least 8,000) then you’ll need a simple step-counter (or pedometer).
As luck would have it, most reading this probably have one already. The Apple iPhone ‘Health’ app is free and tracks steps, as does ‘Google Fit’ on Android phones. So do many other free versions of apps such as ‘MyFitnessPal’ and ‘Runkeeper’. The most basic smart watches and fitness bands track steps too.
Using one of these if you wish, but the key is to get walking as a matter of routine (and ideally come rain or shine). The steps count towards your daily target whether you count them or not!
“An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.”
-Henry David Thoreau
2 — It’s a surprisingly efficient exercise
I used to be skeptical of low impact exercise like walking. I convinced myself that for something to be good for me it had to be brutal, painful and punishing.
Half an hour of high impact exercise that leaves you gasping for air will likely have more effect than half an hour of walking, minute-for-minute. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised to note the stats that I’ve gathered from my FitBit heart rate monitor (an aging and well-used Charge 2).
Consider three examples of the basic stats gathered for exercise undertaken in a single day:
- Walking — 70 minutes, 634 Calories — 9 calories burned per minute
- Jogging — 17 minutes, 222 Calories — 13 calories burned per minute
- Les Mills Body Pump Online Class — 30 minutes, 196 Calories — 6 calories burned per minute
Of course there are many other factors that favour one type of exercise over another — for example the Body Pump weight training had a different purpose (building muscle rather than cardio fitness). It surprised me that walking is far from trivial in its effects on my daily calorie burn, and by no means the least efficient in terms of calories burned per minute either!
A walk doesn’t have to equate to a sedate stroll around the block. Even if it is precisely that, there will still be positive effects.
“Walking is the best possible exercise. Habituate yourself to walk very fast.”
3 — Walking benefits the mind and the soul
I often walk while listening to podcasts or audio-books. Many favour taking phone calls and use the opportunity to focus on conversations while they move. Steve Jobs used to regularly conduct meetings while walking. There are numerous ways to make best use of the time, clearing the to-do list while taking exercise simultaneously.
Many of the more prevalent meditation apps (such as ’Waking up’) now feature walking meditations within their offering too. I find walking to be a highly meditative and calming experience on its own, thanks to the repetitive and metronomic rhythm as I stride along.
During this year’s Coronavirus lockdown, walking provided precious opportunities for quality time with my wife while the kids were at home full-time. I also relished time spent walking alone. No matter how much we love our families, alone time is essential (for me at least)!
Wherever you walk, your senses will be awakened to sights, sounds and smells that you won’t experience while in the gym, at home or at work. I’m lucky to have open spaces, canals, woodland and parks within walking distance from my home and regularly witness great beauty in nature.
It feels good to regularly see and greet the same people, often at the same point on my daily walk — it’s a joyful way to start the day.
Getting a walk and a few thousand steps ‘in the bank’ first thing in the morning also feels like a positive start to each day. If I struggle to workout later, at least I know I took my walk and got my metabolism firing!
“All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking”
4 — Walking loosens the body and the mind
As an active man in my mid-forties I wake each morning with a wide and varied range of aches and pains that come and go depending on how I trained the day before — it seems an inevitability of life!
No matter how creaky my joints may feel upon waking, after an hour of walking I always feel looser and more limber. The muscles warm up, the joints free themselves and my body feels fired-up and ready for the rigours of the day ahead.
I’ve already talked of the mental benefits, but another of these is that my mind feels clearer after a walk too. Walking gives me the time to think ideas through, and I’ve often come up with solutions to problems while walking. A study by the University of Michigan found that being outdoors in nature has a restorative effect on our cognitive function, encouraging creativity. Perhaps that explains the powerful effects that I’ve enjoyed?
When I sit down to work after walking I feel ready for action, with my body and mind primed to handle whatever the day may bring.
“If you are seeking creative ideas, go out walking. Angels whisper to a man when he goes for a walk.”
There are many benefits to walking — most fundamentally that it’s the easiest ways of building a little exercise into your life. If you’re in any doubt as to its worth, I highly recommend you build a regular walk into your day. Experience and enjoy the great benefits it will contribute to your fitness and your mental wellbeing.
Often in life, the simple things are the most effective too!