It’s almost too simple isn’t it. Walking?
It’s not sexy or trendy or complicated. And, perhaps that’s why its so effective at contributing to good health.
But, is walking alone enough to optimise health? Probably not. It’s ideal to include strength training, multi-directional movements, possibly some jumping movements and more variety. However, walking for me, is one of the foundations of my own health practice. And, if all you can or want to do is walk, then it’s a hell of a lot better than just sitting on the couch.
We are conditioning ourselves not to walk
Automation has changed our lives – to the detriment of our health. We rarely have to leave our seats to do anything – working, shopping, banking, socialising etc. Think about it – we are being programmed to sit.
Our fast pace lifestyles, where we work long hours, jam pack many activities into each day and spend numerous hours sitting in front of screens or in cars, does not promote health. I hear people say regularly that they are so busy, they don’t stop from morning until night (me included). However, busy doesn’t always mean active – often it’s the opposite.
If you want to be a person who can fully enjoy your life now and in the future, you need to take responsibility for your choices and priorities – and health should be one of them. Given the fact that our lives will probably remain super busy, what can you do to sit less, walk more and improve your health for now and for the future?
My favourite motto is – view movement not as an inconvenience but as an opportunity.
How about short walks?
I was speaking with someone recently who said that she only had a short lunch break at work and it wasn’t worth going for a brief walk. I challenged that. If you walked for 5mins at lunchtime, another 5mins before work, 5mins after work and then another 5 minutes of an evening – there is 20mins for that day. Other than the total minutes, there are also studies that show that short walks throughout your day can go a long way towards combatting the now known health risks associated with long periods of inactivity.
If, for example, you walk 4-5 x 5mins daily, that’s more than 2 hours for a week, more than 10 hours a month and more than 120 hours a year. Basically, every 5min walk adds up and will assist your health and wellbeing.
I could go over all the research that says why walking is good for us but it’s pretty standard stuff and let’s just say there really isn’t any downsides from what I can gather.
So, I’ll concentrate on some of my best tips for including more walking in your life:
- Start your day with a walk – an additional benefit is getting morning light in your eyes to help re-set your sleep/wake circadian rhythm and blood starts pumping around your body.
- Walk the dog – your own or a friend’s – it makes you both happy and content.
- Breaking up your day with short walks – as discussed above, if you have a sedentary job, short walks can really help your overall health.
- Walking meetings – if you don’t need to take notes, then what a better way to have a discussion.
- Walking catch ups – my favourite way to meet up with friends.
- Walking anywhere within 1km from home – ie don’t drive where you can walk (I need to work on this!)
- Parking further away – from the supermarket, in shopping centre car parks, from appointments, from the station if you also catch a train to work etc etc
- Walk and talk – I rarely sit down when I’m speaking on the phone and generally, I try to make calls during a walk outdoors
- Listen to audio books or podcasts – one of the best ways I help to educate myself is during my walks
- Shopping – a lot of steps can be taken around a large shopping centre or strip.
- Coincide your lunch break with a walk – such a great way to be more refreshed for the afternoon
- Explore parks and green spaces wherever you go.
- Walk everywhere when you travel – my favourite thing to do is walk all day after a long flight – this basically guarantees I’ll sleep well the next night and I never seem to suffer from jet lag.
- Finish your day with a walk – personally, I bookend my day with walks – I find it first signals to my body that it’s morning and to get moving and then again in the evening that it’s time to unwind.
- Walk barefoot on the beach – my very favourite place to walk.
Is 10,000 the magic number?
This is a bit controversial – perhaps it’s less or more and probably very individual. Rather than aim for 10,000 steps, I recommend finding what works best for you. If you are starting from a couple of thousand steps, then aiming for 10,000 immediately may be too much. My own step count will vary from day to day but generally averages out to a particular number over a week and then year.
Saying that, I also like to note that it’s not really even necessary to count steps – this is a relatively new thing since smart watches became popular. If you adopt some of the recommendations above and move a lot in your everyday life, then you’ll probably naturally achieve an appropriate number of steps. Adding pressure to walking by trying to reach a specific number is not always productive and may cause unnecessary stress. Ideally, walking should help with stress reduction, not stress accumulation!
I often think about the people in the blue zones when I consider what I do to maintain my own health. (The blue zones are a term given to geographic regions that are home to some of the world’s longest living people.)
People living in the blue zones generally walk a lot and it’s naturally part of their daily routine. The walk throughout their day, they may walk to the market to buy their groceries and go on an evening walk with a friend.
If people in the blue zones do it, then I always take note.
Walking more will, simply, improve your health and wellbeing – for now and for your future life. And, developing simple habits like incorporating walking more into your everyday life can dramatically increase your activity levels and improve your overall health. It doesn’t have to be time consuming, costly or complicated.
If we meet up some time in the future – let’s walk!