I have become a huge fan of walking lately. I know I need daily exercise, yet the gym costs money, biking is a bit scary in our urban neighborhood, and running is really hard on my body. But walking – ah! I love it for so many reasons – what a perfect low-impact way to relax, become more healthy, get stuff done, learn about my community, and reduce my overall environmental impact!
During the walk to my garden plot, about 1.5 miles away from my apartment, I become a part of my neighborhood. I say hello to people I recognize. I notice new stores, restaurants, and gardens. I watch the trees and flowers change with the seasons. I see birds migrating and squirrels hiding nuts in nooks and crannies. I watch the impact of the recession on local cafes, boutiques, and condos. I learn of neighborhood events from posters, people chatting, or occasionally by just running into them. And mostly, I just feel like I am a part of my surroundings. I understand my community better, I know more about how I can help people and improve our neighborhood in the future, and I know where to find the resources I need. I enjoy being a part of my community.
This one is simple: every mile walked is a mile not driven. That means no fuel, no greenhouse gases, no car maintenance. I run most of my errands by foot.
I learned recently that in order to maintain health and weight, an average person needs to walk 10,000 steps per day. Apparently it’s a common number – supported by study after study, and even quoted by my own physician. That is the amount that you need to live a healthy, active lifestyle.
What does that mean?
Well, depending on your size, 10,000 steps is between 4 and 5 miles. Per day. It may sound like a lot, but an average person walks 10,000 steps in about one hour. (Probably about as long as you would spend going to the gym, right?)
What do you get with that 10,000 steps?
Speaking as someone with chronic asthma, I can tell you that walking is a low-impact form of exercise that has slowly reformed my lungs so that they are much healthier than when I was living a sedentary lifestyle. (However, if you live in a particularly smoggy city, you should probably walk indoors, breathing filtered air. You might want to join a gym or YMCA.)
Walking can slow the aging process. Risk of death from heart disease could by reduced by 34% by walking at least 2 hours per week. Walking 7 hours a week is associated with a decreased risk of breast cancer and Type II diabetes (from CDC). Regular walking can reduce your risk of colon cancer and glaucoma, and even reduce the risk of catching the common cold – by up to 50%.
Kids should walk, too.
Have your children walk to and from school, practice, friends’ houses, and so on – safely, of course (eg, with friends or family). According to the Centers for Disease Control, regular walking can improve kids’ academic performance and alertness, improve self-image and independence, contribute to a healthy social and emotional development, increase the likelihood that they will grow into healthy and active adults, reduce the chance for early-onset diabetes and obesity, and build and maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints.
We’ve discussed here the need to rejuvenate, to unwind, and to give ourselves time to relax so that we can do the many things we all want to do. One of the ways that I relax, is by exercising – particularly walking. I can move at my own pace, to my own rhythm. I feel the wind, watch the wildlife, smell the flowers, and listen to the sounds of my neighborhood. I let my mind wander, and often come up with ideas for articles, solutions for a challenge at work, or a new way of looking toward the future.
How To Start
Ok. So you know why. But how do you start?
- Walk to work. We just moved to a new office location that is 1.3 miles away. If I walk there, then to my p-patch garden, and then home, I walk 4.5 miles. Perfect! It may seem far at first, but it gets easier, and I really enjoy it.
- Walk to pick up your kids from school. Is the school 1-2 miles away? Walk! It’s good for you, and it’s good for your kids, too. It may seem overwhelming the first few times. “Oh, the time!” But leave yourself lots of extra time to get there, and take it easy. Enjoy your surroundings. And let yourself have this time for your health, and for your children.
- Walk at lunch time. If you have an hour for lunch, spend 30 minutes walking and then eat your lunch. You can bring a comfortable change of clothes to change into if you like – keep it in your locker or in a bag beneath your desk. Matt goes to the gym during his lunch hour – you can do this, too, if it’s too hot outside or if you are more motivated by the gym atmosphere.
- Walk with your friends. Get a group of friends together for a midday, after-work, or evening walk.
- Walk with your loved ones. Matt and I often go for walks around the neighborhood at sunset – you can’t beat that for timing and company.
- Walk your dog… further. Do you normally take your dog around the block? Take him or her another block. In a week, add another block. It will get easier.
- Walk to your community garden, to the store, or to do other small errands. Our local grocery store is about 1 mile away, as is the video store, the library, and many other stores we use. We walk to them.
- Park your car at the far end of the lot, take the stairs, or walk downstairs to talk to someone in person at the office. There are loads of little tricks you can use throughout the day to get yourself to walk a bit more. It all adds up! Try some as you go about your day – I bet you’ll find several little ways to add steps to your day.
- Listen to music or podcasts. It’s amazing how time can fly this way. Just don’t tune out your surroundings entirely – make sure you pay close attention when crossing streets, and that you can hear sirens above your headphones.
- Make those phone calls you don’t ever seem to have time to make. I call my grandfather and my mother often while walking. These are often long conversations and they’re nice to have while enjoying my surroundings. Again, though, make sure to pay close attention while crossing streets. When I do this, I find the walking combined with getting things done really decreases my stress level. And the walk goes very fast this way!
- Buy a cheap pedometer. Many studies have shown that when you have a pedometer keeping you true to your goal of 10,000 steps a day, you are much more likely to get there. A little psychological trick you can play on yourself. And it’s fun – I have a pedometer on my phone and it’s loads of fun to see how far I’ve walked throughout the day.
- Map out a route on Google maps. You can plan one route or several routes this way. Google makes it easy to change routes and save routes and such. So find a nice route that avoids the busy streets and goes past neighborhood parks and gardens – or a route that hits the several little errands you need to make – or both!
- Keep track of your walks. If you are someone who likes to keep track, it may be an extra motivator for you to keep a walk log. There are lots of options out there.
- Take a challenge. Ha! Several readers have been asking for more challenges here. So stay tuned…
If you have been meaning to start exercising, and this seems like a good way to start, join me – come sign up tomorrow, and we’ll motivate one another!!