It felt good every time it happened. But, it hasn’t happened in a long time.
I was a runner for a handful of years. Did a bunch of races, including some half-marathons and my one “accidental” marathon. I did a lot of my training at Centennial Lake in Columbia, MD. It’s a man-made lake with a three-mile paved trail around the perimeter. It’s beautiful.
I would run there at least once a week and every time I did I saw other runners. You could tell when race season was approaching by the increase in runners on the trail.
I always preferred running the lake counter-clock wise. In other words, when I reached the trail I went right. A lot of runners went left. That meant runners were always passing other runners going in the opposite direction. That also meant I would get the runner wave or head nod.
I was in the “club” and it felt good to be acknowledged. Eventually I transitioned from running to walking as my primary fitness activity. I switched clubs and the waves stopped. There is no wave or head nod walkers give to each other. Oh sure, I still wave as I walk through the neighborhood now. But, those waves are to people sitting on their porch or driving their car. It’s the “neighborhood wave” not the “walking for fitness” wave.
Have you ever wondered why there is no wave for people walking? I have and I have a theory.
Unless there is a physical limitation, everybody walks. There is nothing exclusive about it. People learn how to walk before their first birthday and often are walking right up until their last birthday. We walk to the car. We walk through the grocery store. We walk to find the remote control after the last person using it set it down in an unusual place.
Put another way, walking as a fitness activity is perceived as “less than”.
But, is it really?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does a ton of research on the impact of physical activity on health. Their most recent study was released in 2018. They’re still recommending we get between 150 to 300 minutes of moderate physical activity each week.
The list of benefits, though, has changed. It’s growing. The CDC says moving more and sitting less gives you better sleep, better mental and emotional health, improved cardio-vascular health, and now they are including better protection from a list of cancers.
For years, the CDC said these benefits were confined to those who moved with intention for at least ten minutes at a time. In other words, walking around the living room to find the remote didn’t help your health.
Not anymore. The latest research indicates there are health benefits in any movement. But, the more you move the greater your benefits. Which brings us back to walking for fitness.
If you took a 30-minute walk every day you would reach 210 minutes of physical activity each week…well above the 150 minute minimum the CDC recommends. If you don’t have a 30 minute block of time, you can divide it up into two 15-minute walks or even three 10-minute walks. All three of those options count the same.
And, the faster you walk the greater the benefit. This is where having a Fitbit strapped to your wrist is a big help. (I recommend the Fitbit Inspire HR. My review HERE) The ability to track your step count will let you know whether your walking pace is light, moderate, or vigorous. Those are the three categories into which the CDC places physical activity.
If you walk for 30 minutes and your Fitbit shows not more than 2,000 steps then your pace is considered light intensity. If that same 30 minute walk gives you between 3,000 and 4,000 steps then your pace is moderate intensity. If you are above 4,500 steps for that 30 minute walk you are really moving and the CDC says that’s a vigorous intensity pace. In fact, at that speed you get the same benefits with a 15 minute walk as someone with a moderate pace gets for 30 minutes.
Walking for fitness is highly recommended by the CDC. But, most of us will fall into the light to moderate categories which leads to the perception that walking is “less than”. If you run for fitness your intensity is higher. Those who ride a bike or do CrossFit are probably in the vigorous category too. Swimming, weight-lifting, and High Intensity Interval Training are all fitness activities that push you hard.
So, that makes walking clearly “less than”, right?
Not so fast.
One of my favorite fables is, “The Tortoise and the Hare”. The hare, or rabbit, feels superior to the turtle (tortoise) and is not shy about letting that be known. Finally, the turtle has had enough and challenges the rabbit to a race. The rabbit has a fast start and appears headed to victory until he stops and takes a nap. The turtle keeps moving ahead very slowly, but with relentless focus. When the rabbit finally wakes up it’s too late because the turtle has already crossed the finish line.
I am impressed with people who run for fitness. My wife is a runner and she’s a beast. I’m impressed with people who do high intensity, hard fitness activities. They really do feel “more than” to me.
But, here’s the thing. I’m even more impressed with people who start a fitness journey and NEVER STOP. The world is filled with people who started those “more than” fitness activities and then quit.
It could have been after a few weeks when their reality did not match their unrealistic expectations. That can be very discouraging. Or, they might have had to stop because of an injury. After being sidelined for weeks or months it’s hard to rediscover that initial motivation. It’s also possible they got off the fitness path because the activity was just not sustainable. Their emotions wrote a check their body couldn’t cash.
Whatever the reason, they are on the sidelines…no longer exchanging waves with others.
And, this is why walking is not “less than”. In fact, I will argue the contrary. Walking is actually “more than.”
Walking for fitness naturally keeps expectations lower. You don’t expect immediate results. When you choose walking for fitness you understand this is a long-game and that keeps you from getting discouraged.
Walking for fitness is kind to your body which means far fewer injuries forcing you to stop. I’ve been walking for fitness for almost seven years and have yet to suffer an injury that keeps me from reaching my daily step goal. Other forms of fitness activity may be more intense, but no fitness happens when you’re injured and not moving.
And, walking for fitness is the MOST SUSTAINABLE fitness activity available. As long as you’re physically capable, you’ll be walking for the rest of your life. Why not add some intentionality and make it your primary fitness activity. That, in turn, makes fitness part of your lifestyle and not this “other” thing you try and squeeze in several times a week.
So, next time you’re out walking and get passed by someone moving faster than you or you’re scrolling social media and see pictures of sweaty friends at the gym, don’t feel “less than”. The odds are pretty good, at some point down the road, just like the rabbit they’ll be on the side of the road as you pass them by.
And, when you do, wave. Not a wave of self-righteousness, but a wave of invitation. Invite them to join you on a fitness journey that’s better than they ever realized.
If you struggle with motivation to stick with fitness this blog will help. Don’t be intimated by the title. That’s my goal…not yours. But, my bigger goal is to help you start a fitness journey that builds momentum and never stops. If you click FOLLOW (below on your phone and to the right and above on your computer) you’ll get an email with a link to each motivating article the moment it’s published.