Raise your hand if you’ve ever had this thought before: “Why am I not walking more?!”
Walking is potentially the most underrated workout — it’s also the most studied form of exercise. Many experts agree that walking is one of the best possible things we can do for our health and wellbeing.
And here’s the thing: I live in SUCH a walkable, beautiful neighborhood, yet somehow I make excuses as to why I can’t walk to get coffee, drop things at the post office, or just get around the block. I really haven’t been walking or getting outside as much as I’d like, which… to be honest, is pretty terrible because I have a three-year-old golden retriever who very much needs to be walked (I’m sorry, Stella ?).
But “exercise snacking” really got me back into good habits of movement and started me back on regular walks. I decided to commit to two weeks of 15-minute morning walks, starting every single day with fresh air, sunshine, sea breeze, and conscious, peaceful movement. Here’s how it went down.
How I Feel After Two Weeks
No surprises here; I feel excellent. I feel accomplished! I struggle to do anything every single day, even if I really want to, so the fact that I was able to make this happen feels wonderful. The “win” is really gratifying. I should also point out — this was my only form of exercise for two weeks! Just walking (yes, really) … and my body feels awesome.
I combined my second week of walking with reduced screen time (I took a tech break!), so overall, I was feeling fantastic. My friends and family commented on how relaxed my energy was (one even said, “I haven’t seen you this relaxed in years!”). Getting out for short bursts in the morning improved my mood, mental clarity, and productivity on the days in which I was working or doing chores around the house.
Additionally, these short morning walks got the ball rolling for longer walks. On a few days, I ended up walking around town for hours with my dog. I got to explore more of the town I live in, try coffee spots I hadn’t been to before, and tick things off my bucket list — all things I hadn’t made time for before.
TL;DR — walking helped me experience…
- Improved energy
- Improved mood, increased general happiness levels
- Better mental clarity, focus, and productivity
- Better mindfulness
- A more relaxed state
- A sense of accomplishment
- Good overall health
- A happier dog
Health Benefits of Walking
This might come as a bit of a shock, but exercise doesn’t have to be super intense or complicated — walking actually has a ton of benefits, and could even be healthier than running for some folks.
It’s Low Impact
There’s a time and a place for HIIT, but those explosive, plyometric moves can wear on your joints. The same goes for running — while incredibly effective, the impact on the pavement or trail can sometimes cause problems for ankles, knees, and hips. With walking, you’ll avoid the impact and protect your joints, so it’s a great addition to your current fitness routine.
It’s Injury Preventative
Not only does walking have the lowest injury rate of any form of exercise, but it’s been shown to prevent falls (and thus fall-related injuries), which is a major public health issue in older adults. And because it supports your joints and strengthens your muscles, you can protect yourself from other kinds of injuries that stem from physical weaknesses and lack of stability.
It’s Good Cardio
Studies have shown walking to be cardioprotective — it can lower blood pressure and resting heart rate and help reduce the risk of heart disease.
It’s a Mood Booster
Studies have also shown that walking can improve your mood. This has been proven over and over again for general mental health anxiety as well.
It Helps With Weight Loss
In one study, it showed that individuals who walked showed a reduction in waist circumference, and, when combined with healthy eating, 30-minute walks can have a significant impact on weight. Harvard also reported that walking might reduce cravings.
It Could Add Years to Your Life
Harvard also reported that walking about 8,000 steps per day — no matter the speed — could help you live longer.
It Helps You Get Outside
You probably already know — there are plenty of health effects that come from getting outside (and getting some sun). Unless you’re walking on a treadmill (or through a larger enclosed area), the benefits of walking are compounded by the benefits of getting outdoors for a bit. Double whammy.
How I Approached The Walks
Different walking experiences help you mix it up. Here are some approaches I took.
One of my favorite types of walks is the kind with no phone, no headphones, no Apple Watch… just total presence. I did more of these on my unplugged week.
A different kind of mindful walk, this one has guided audio (which obviously requires a tech device of some kind).
It’s a different experience when you’ve got a living creature tagging along and possibly going number-two on the neighbor’s yard, but it’s rewarding. Cruising around with my furry gal pal and seeing how excited she is just to be outside reminds me to be more present and more joyful with the little things in life.
This one’s pretty straightforward too, but listening to a great playlist or one of your favorite podcasts (even a few minutes of an audiobook!) can make the walk even more enjoyable.
Walking With a Goal
Sometimes I need an ‘endpoint,’ if you will. For instance, I want to walk to the USPS drop box, or the market, or to get coffee. Having that small objective was quite motivating; on a couple occasions, I walked to a nearby coffee shop.
Tips For Success
Get up and Go
This was most crucial for me. Don’t grab your phone, don’t even brush your teeth — just slide your shoes on, and get outside (OK… throw some SPF on, sun care is important!). I find that if I spend too much time doing other things like meditating, my hygiene and skincare routine, checking email, and making breakfast, I’m way less likely to get out for a walk. If I make it mindless and eliminate that decision-making process, it is so, SO much easier to stick to it.
Set Out Clothes the Night Before
If you’re not comfortable with rolling out of the house in sweats (admittedly, I live in a very casual beach community, so this is my norm), then put some walking clothes out near your bed the night before so you can quickly change before you venture off. Fewer decisions to make, less lagging, more walking.
Have an Accountability Partner
For me, my partner is covered in fur and doesn’t speak English, but she was counting on me to get outside each day. Perhaps you have a significant other, a child, a parent, a roommate, or a best friend (even man’s best friend) who will go on those morning walks with you and keep you on track. Strength in numbers!
If you’re anything like me, habit tracking is a truly powerful tool to help yourself stick to healthy routines. There is something really mentally rewarding about checking off that box, so write out your little “must-dos” for the day (every day!), and put “morning walk” on there. Check the box when you get home, and revel in that little dopamine boost. In a few weeks, you can look back at your habit tracking log and feel the reward of getting so much done (it’s also a great way to check-in with other habits and your consistency with those as well).
Sometimes that aforementioned checklist isn’t rewarding enough; perhaps you can tempt yourself with a morning coffee or matcha afterward, maybe a smoothie — or even a few minutes of scrolling through social media feeds. Think of something rewarding that you really want to do in the morning, and make it your reward for completing your morning walk.
For this one, I have to tip my hat to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, from whom I learned this trick. If you have a morning habit that is already automated, “stack” this morning walk before or after that habit. For instance, before I check my phone, I go for a walk. Or, after I brush my teeth and put on sunscreen, I go for a walk. Make this walk a part of a pre-existing routine for a more seamless experience.
Mix up Your Route (and Routine)
Keep things exciting. If you’re prone to boredom and allergic to monotony, take a different route every day. Maybe mix up your routine by using a varied approach (as in, one day you’re doing a guided meditation, the next is music, the following is silent, and the day after is podcast day). If you’re feeling a little tired of your cul-de-sac or the blocks around your house, maybe try one day a week driving to a nearby park or trail. Keep things fresh!
Even though walking can be injury-protective and a great rehab activity, you can also sustain walking injuries. Wear proper shoes, don’t overdo it, and watch where you’re stepping to ensure that you don’t incur any shin splints or overuse injuries.
In Sum… You’ve Gotta Try This
The benefits are unbeatable, it’s free, and it’s simple. All you have to do is put on some shoes and get outside. Just move. Get that fresh air, get your blood flowing, tune into your surroundings, find peace. I know sometimes the simplest things can feel like such a chore — I’m right there with you — but this one is worth the extra bit of effort. Take those 15 minutes. You’re probably scrolling through social media or email for longer than that, anyway!