The other day, I really needed to go for a walk ─ not just an errand-running walk but a deep cleansing type of walk. I had spent a great deal of time on the computer, pushing to meet a deadline, and needed a thorough unplug. Sitting elsewhere in our space with the windows open or somewhere out in the back wasn’t going to cut it this time. The sun was out, the sky was clear, and the air was good, so I wove in and out of our neighborhood on foot.
It was just what my mind, body, and spirit needed. I wondered how I had gotten off track ─ even before the pandemic, working remotely, and the increased crime, heatwaves, and wildfires here. I used to walk the city from end-to-end and back. I thought about why else I had stopped walking and came up with the following reasons and tips to share. If these sound familiar, perhaps you can apply them and get your walk on, too!
Notes: This post was last updated on June 29, 2021 and shares general public health information but does not offer or replace individualized health advice, which is best given by your medical care providers. Scout is not affiliated or endorsed by information, music, or art sources mentioned, nor do they approve of this blog or its content.
1. “Get” the Benefits of Walking
Many of us know the benefits of walking but don’t “get it” or understand until it’s too late. We may not be in tune with how we’re feeling and may not recognize that we are deprived.
Signs of deprivation could be feeling:
- defeated ─ as if you invested so much time and energy for little return
- frustrated ─ like you’re going to explode
- doubtful, questioning your path
- maxed out ─ as if you’ve reached your full potential
- slow to react or respond, less mentally agile
- wound up with tight upper back and shoulders
- out of breath during daily activities
Walking can help us manage feelings of overwork, anger, self-doubt, and knowledge or idea depletion. While walking, we can:
- have a washout period, wipe the slate clean
- blow off steam and beat out stress
- have time to reflect and refocus
- get the cogs turning and start fresh again
Walking exposes us to sunlight, which, when absorbed by the skin, reacts with a cholesterol compound, forming vitamin D. Vitamin D supports our nervous, immune, and musculoskeletal systems. Walking is a weight-bearing, aerobic exercise that strengthens the muscles, bones, heart, and lungs, keeping us fit depending on how often, intensely, and long we do it.
Now that we’re aware of possible signs of deprivation and have connected them with how we’re feeling, let’s try to prevent them by making walking a priority.
2. Make Walking a Priority
We may understand the benefits of walking but still not walk regularly because it isn’t as high-priority as other things on our to-do list. Or we may have every intention to walk but not do it because we get caught up in other things. Considering the cost and convenience, walking should be a top priority, though. It’s free and can be done around your neighborhood.
Too many times have I said, “I just need to get through this one thing,” and missed the window of opportunity only to find I would have been more productive had I gone for a walk. Others have said, “Don’t worry ─ the work will be there when you get back,” and it’s true ─ the work is not going anywhere and work will always be there. So, pry yourself from the computer and take a break!
It helps to hold yourself accountable by making an “if, then” statement, such as, “I have to go for a walk because if I don’t, then I will be less productive.” Also very helpful is setting visible or audible reminders in heavily occupied areas, such as a poster near a work station, a stickie note on a computer monitor, or an alarm that makes a distinguishable sound or tune.
3. Set Realistic Goals
Another reason why we may not walk regularly is overestimating how long a walk must be to benefit or underestimating the benefits of a short walk. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans at the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion recommend at least 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic physical activity, such as brisk walking, for adults1. However, this doesn’t have to be done all at once ─ it can be done in increments, for example:
- one 75-minute walk 2 days per week,
- one 50-minute walk 3 days per week,
- one 30-minute walk 5 days per week,
- two 15-minute walks twice per day 5 days per week, OR
- one 60-minute walk and three 30-minute walks per week
If you’ve been sitting around a lot, The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans suggest beginning with 5 minutes several times per day 5 to 6 days per week and advancing to 10 minutes 3 times per day1. Adults should do as much physical activity as safely tolerated, and anything is considered better than nothing1!
Choose a time and frequency that best fits your situation. If your schedule is erratic, get any walking you can in. The key to any successful exercise program is to be consistent. If that means walking up the street and back a couple of times per day or around the block during breaks most days of the week, then pat yourself on the back!
4. Get Motivated to Walk
Understanding the mental, spiritual, and physical benefits, prioritizing, and setting realistic goals are all good but may not be enough to get you walking regularly. Music and tracking tools can give you that extra push.
Music can put you in the mood, add pep to your step, and even take you further than intended. I made song lists, using Spotify. (Note: Not all explicit lyrics could be excluded.)
I have an eclectic taste, like music from different genres and time periods, and choose songs I am reminded of or seem to go with a theme. You can listen to these song lists or other song lists or make your own, using a digital music service, too!
Tracking tools, such as pedometers, apps, and logs, are great for monitoring walking progress. You can aim to improve or maintain your time, distance, or number of steps on subsequent walks and feel accomplished and encouraged when you reach your target.
5. Make Walking Fun
In addition to listening to music and tracking steps, you can add fun to walks by taking note of your surroundings. Walk during the daytime in an attractive, pedestrian-friendly area, such as a park, square, or outdoor market. Take notice of seasonal changes, such as the addition of red, orange, and yellow colors to leaves and the display of holiday decorations.
In the city, there is an abundance of sights to see. Frequenters can get used to this but find surprises with public art. For example, in San Francisco, there is a heart designed by a different artist at each corner of Union Square and dreamy murals of dragons and Bruce Lee in the alleyways of Chinatown. In North Beach, The Richmond, and other districts, there are playful paintings of honey bears, lips, or other objects on nonresidential doors and walls.
6. Be Prepared Yet Flexible
Other reasons why we may not walk regularly are being unprepared and inflexible. When you’re psyched and ready to go but have to charge your devices or find your keys, this can disrupt your flow and cause you to lose time.
Planning ahead is essential to have an optimal experience. First and foremost, choose a safe time of day and area to walk. This may involve driving or riding out to a site and decreasing the frequency and increasing the duration of walks. Organize and store your belongings in a designated place as close to the door as possible. It may help to have a checklist posted where you can see it so you don’t forget. With the length of your walk in mind, consider:
- Walking shoes that are in good condition
- Weather-appropriate attire, i.e., light vs. multiple layers of clothing
- Face covering, such as a multi-layered mask or neck gaiter
- Sunglasses, hat, visor, umbrella, or parasol
- Home keys
- Sunblock or sunscreen applied to face and body
- Water bottle
- Phone with music and pedometer app
- Backpack, fanny pack, or jacket with inner pockets
- Snack or cash to buy a snack
Things don’t always go as planned, however. When this happens, just roll with it and get your walk in. You can go for a longer walk another day. Don’t underestimate the benefits of a short walk and be consistent!
So, are you ready to get your walk on, too? Did any of this sound familiar? Have you identified other barriers to walking more regularly and solutions? Share your thoughts and this post if you think others may benefit.
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans 2nd Edition. (2018). https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf