Not Another Diet — Principle 4

Move More All Day, Every Day

Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash

Here’s a simple breakdown of how I think about diet and exercise as they apply to weight loss:

Diet has the greatest effect on weight. What, and how much you eat is largely responsible for gaining or losing weight. Working out isn’t terribly useful for weight loss but terrific for keeping it off, mood, energy and general good health.

Science backs me up on this but feel free to google it, I’ll wait.

Great, you’re back.

I know! It’s mind-blowing considering how often we are fed the message of specific workouts for weight loss. I think of all the nonsense I’ve purchased over the years thinking some amazing work-out was going to be the answer to my weight woes.

Fear not, there is one kind of movement that is great for weight loss and maintenance. Moving all day. A steady hum of movement is what you need to lose weight and keep it off, and happens to be a great way to form an exercise routine.

Companies would like you to believe specific workouts are the only way to a healthy weight, but that isn’t the case.

The problem with the mindset of limiting exercise to a place (like the gym) or to a particular workout is that it encourages people to feel and behave like no other movement is of value. If you ‘worked out’, then it’s fine to sit all day and conversely if you don’t get to the gym then anything else is pointless.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Think about the last time a lot of daily movement was forced on you. Maybe you had to move, or took a vacation with a ton of walking. Yes, it was hard at some points (so what? we worry way too much about discomfort), but after a week or two you might have started feeling better overall, sleeping better or maybe even lost a little weight.

Incorporating movement into your entire day is a tremendous benefit to health, and a humane, practical way to inch towards your fitness goals. I can’t tell you exactly how to do this because our lives, homes, and neighborhoods may be very different.

Here are some great tips on incorporating more movement, and some of my suggestions: can you walk or bike to wherever you are going? Go visit a colleague two floors up using the stairs? Grab a quick yoga session after work (even better if you can walk to and from)? Pick up trash with a group on Saturday morning? Hit the local trail with friends instead of brunch? Take that delivery of mulch yourself? Pull weeds in a community garden? Take the kids for a bike ride?

ALL OF THE ABOVE. Yep, that much movement is the end goal.

The problem with the mindset of limiting exercise to a place (like the gym) or to a particular workout is that it encourages people to feel and behave like no other movement is of value.

You don’t have to wake up tomorrow and force yourself to move all day. You do need to take stock of how much movement you get right now and make one improvement after another. Add this, then add that, then some more. Slowly, sustainably, without allowing backsliding.

The phrase I like to use, is ‘make life harder on yourself’. Not because I want you to suffer, certainly not emotionally, but because modern life has taken so much of our mobility away. Our bodies were meant to be in motion all day, and they work better when we do just that.

The movement that I find to be of the most value in weight loss, weight control and my incredibly cheerful disposition is walking. Simple, one foot in front of the other, walking.

I walk for pleasure, not for some vague idea of steps or fitness. I walk for the sheer joy of the movement. Walking is where my weight loss journey began, and it has become a full-scale passion. Walking has become so important to my life and well-being that bit by bit I’ve reshaped the whole of it to allow for more walking.

My love for a few things has deepened. Walking is one. I am a dedicated walker. Not in the way of someone who tracks their steps and heart rate (fit-bits and the like feel joyless to me), more in the way of a meditative practice. I walk briskly, but that is my natural tempo.

Walking was what I did to get moving nine years ago. It seemed the simplest, least-gimmicky thing I could think of. Just, take a walk. I found trails close to my home, explored neighborhoods, walked to dinner, walked to the grocery store, walked home.

Bit by bit, my body became adjusted to daily movement. Each time, I focused on gently pushing myself to do a little more. Try these steps, go a little further, pick up the pace, tackle these hills. I tried for more when I felt ready, not as a ‘workout’ I had to grudgingly accept, but as another layer of movement.

It eventually led me to take up running, and then start a gym membership so I could keep up with my routine on bad weather days. You can see I’m not against going to the gym when it makes sense to support or enhance your routine. If I’d started with a gym membership, the whole thing would have fallen apart very quickly. I wasn’t ready, and it wouldn’t have made sense to my fitness trajectory.

Becoming a runner isn’t the goal I am suggesting for you. My point in this story is starting small with a thing I genuinely enjoyed led to years of continuous movement, and helped me build the confidence to take up new challenges.

I’ve had to set running down from time to time because of injuries, or while I was in treatment for breast cancer (twice!) but I never had to give up walking. I’ve become sort of an evangelist for walking as a result. I say without an any exaggeration I think walking has the power to make the world a better place. There is nothing like it for getting in touch with your community, supporting your health and providing a much needed break from the world.

Pro-tip: Dress for movement. I wear clothes every day that I don’t mind taking a walk in, or jogging up stairs. In my case that means supportive, flat shoes and clothes that offer mobility. If your feet hurt or the clothes are restrictive you won’t take advantage of all the opportunities to sneak in a little movement. If you are already balking, I’ll refer you back to the introduction where I say, “ To change your weight you have to change how you conduct your life. All of it.

Food for thought: most of the movement I get is not done in exercise clothes or even athleisure, but in every day wear. If I can’t comfortably walk a mile in what I’m wearing, I change my clothes. I make it easy on myself to keep moving.

I schedule time with friends and my boyfriend to walk together. I make a point to live near trails. I walk long distances without any hesitation or ambivalence. I walk in the cold. I walk to dinner and the grocery store. I’ve even written an ode to walking.

I’ve kept it up all these years precisely because it feels good to me, and not out of some sense of virtuousness.

If walking isn’t pleasurable to you but biking or intensive gardening is, then by all means dive into that. Starting with something that you enjoy is an excellent foundation to a life with a lot movement.

Do a thing. Do it again the next day. Keep trying for a little more.

You are on your way.

If you are new to this series please go back and read the introduction. It’s important to understand the basics before simply adopting the principles.