If you’re trying to get into, or back into shape, you can’t beat walking for a good starter exercise. With few exceptions, anyone can walk, and if you haven’t exercised in a while, walking is a great activity to start. Read on for how to make walking for exercise a habit.
Benefits of Walking for exercise
Walking has many benefits, not the least of which is getting out into the fresh air and sunshine, at least during certain times of the year. Back when my children were younger, we took a walk every single evening at 7PM, rain or shine…or any other kind of weather.
I honestly cannot remember any sort of weather that stopped us. We walked fast, too, and it was a great time to be together with them. Hanging out with family while getting fit…what could be better?
Alas, my children are now grown. I use walking more for fitness now, but it’s nice to be out and enjoy spring or fall weather.
How about some of the health benefits of walking?
Helps Maintain a Healthy Weight
If you regularly trek at a quick enough pace, walking can certainly help you reach a healthy weight and stay there. The food you eat is [very] important, as always, but walking or any other sort of regular exercise can be a tool in your weight management arsenal.
If you start at a heavier weight, you’re actually at an advantage when it comes to burning calories. The more weight you carry, the more calories you burn. Simple as that.
As you continue to walk, you’ll gain endurance, which will in turn allow you to walk further and faster.
Strengthens Your Bones & Muscles
Especially if you’re new exercise, walking is all you need for exercise, so don’t stress about it. Weight-bearing exercise like walking is one of the three “pillars of bone health,” according to American Bone Health. (The others are a calcium rich diet and Vitamin D).
Once you’ve been at it for a while, adding in some weight lifting will help you continue to get stronger, and also lead to those lean and sexy muscles we’d all like to keep (or get!) in our
dottage 50s and beyond.
Benefits Your mental health
This is a big one for me. I’ve always been a worrier, and getting out for a walk, or engaging in any other sort of physical exercise helps relieve my stress and anxiety.
Studies have shown that 45 minutes of walking briskly, hiking, swimming, etc., 3 to 5 times per week showed the most mental health benefits. And surprisingly, more is not necessarily better.
And while trackers like Fitbit are awesome and can be helpful as well as inspiring, don’t get all hung up on them, or worry if you don’t get in your “10,000 steps.” Newer studies suggest that stressing out over some arbitrary goal can actually have a negative impact. Just use them as a benchmark.
Make walking for exercise a habit
We’ve established several of the benefits of walking. You likely already knew most of them, right? But what can you do to really get into the habit? Especially if some days the weather isn’t great, or you just plain don’t feel like it.
As with any new habit, this can be a challenge. I know from vast experience how difficult it is to keep a new habit going for the long haul. I’m not sure why it seems so easy to fall into bad habits, but maintaining new ones is another story.
Make it easy
Since it’s so easy for us to default to established norms, it’s crucial that you tie the new habit with something you’re already doing.
Let’s say your plan is to begin walking right after you get home from work. First, you must think about your normal routine. Go into detail here. You arrive home. What comes next? Put your keys down, go use the bathroom, then maybe head to the kitchen and open the refrigerator?
Hmmm…IF the first thing you see in the fridge is wine and salsa for those chips in the pantry, that’s probably not the best idea. However, if you stock the fridge at your first site line with some apple slices, or some low fat yogurt, or veggies and healthy dip? Maybe one of those could be your pre-walk cue.
I purchase a large container of apple slices at the grocery store so I can’t use the excuse of not wanting to slice an apple! That may sound pretty lame, but it’s a barrier to me so I found a way to work around it. I figured out I even save money because then I don’t end up throwing away old apples (it’s happened [way] more than once).
Make it fun!
Once you’ve figured out a cue, think of something that could
bribe help you look forward to your walk. Maybe there’s a podcast you’ve been wanting to check out, or book you’d love to listen to.
I use my commute to and from work now to listen to podcasts, and lament the hours I wasted listening to boring and mostly negative news over the years.
Listening to something you enjoy also tends to make the time go much faster. So does walking with other people. Studies show that walking (or any exercise) with a friend can be extremely beneficial, not only for your body, but also for your mind.
Track it—and challenge yourself
I mentioned not making yourself a slave to a tracker like a Fitbit. I stand by that; BUT, challenging yourself to go 10 miles or 4 hours per month (or some other milestone) and using something to keep track can be very motivational.
Some people love to see a printable tracker fill up each day (I’m definitely one of them). In fact, you can download this free tracker for just this purpose. You can make a game out of not missing a schedule day, which leads into the final tip…
Yay! Who doesn’t love a reward for a job well done. This is also where exercising with, or at least being accountable to someone is very helpful. Don’t have a set goal and then give yourself the reward even if you don’t meet it. What good is that?
Some great rewards (non food related) are buying a piece of workout gear or clothing, or maybe a Gymboss for when you start doing HiiT down the road a bit.
Or, you could do what I always love to do for a reward: buy a book. Walking for Fitness is a great one if you decide to use walking as your main exercise. It progresses through several phases all the way to power walking. That may not ultimately be your goal, but it can certainly be inspirational to read about it.
Remember the steps to making walking for exercise a habit: make it easy, make it fun, track it (and challenge yourself!), and be sure to indulge in periodic, non-food rewards. If you do those things consistently, before you know it, you’ll wonder why you didn’t start sooner!