I walked through the quiet neighborhood as the sky brightened with early daylight beyond the trees. Sunrise was ten-minutes away. The air was cold, but I was layered up so it felt good. The empty street inclined ahead. I picked up the pace to get my heart beating a little faster.
As the road leveled out I kept pushing myself. I smiled at the signs of spring, blooming trees and birds I hadn’t heard in a while, but this wasn’t a nature walk. My heart rate was firmly in cardio zone and I wanted it to stay there so I didn’t slow down.
For seven years walking has been my main form of exercise. It’s how I stay healthy and process life. Before I discovered the amazing benefits of walking it was merely a tool to get from point A to point B.
And, if I could shorten the distance between those two points I would. It’s not that I hated walking, I was simply striving for efficiency. Why take two minutes to walk from the back of the parking lot when I could park closer and be in the store in less than 30 seconds?
That changed when I got my first Fitbit and began to see walking through a new filter. It was no longer just a utility, but real exercise with benefits that extended beyond the physical. I think better when I’m walking. I’m calmer and even more creative.
But, the heart of all the walking I do is just that.
I’m not a doctor and what I’m about to tell you is NOT MEDICAL ADVICE. For that you need to consult your own doctor. Walking may seem benign, but anytime we push ourselves physically there’s always a risk if our body is not ready or capable of handling it.
It also would be wrong for me to imply that my results will be your results. I will tell you that my annual physical feels like a reward. My doctor never suggests I change this or cut back on that. I’m not on any medicine and I’m entering the season of life where I can get discounts simply based on when I was born. But, I can’t say you’ll have the same results. The human body is just too stinking complex to suggest that.
My lifelong challenge with exercise was finding an activity that was effective, sustainable, flexible, and fun! Walking checks each of those boxes for me. It all started with that first Fitbit. Here’s how:
IT MADE EXERCISE A GAME
My first Fitbit was provided by my employer. It was part of a new Wellness Initiative and included monthly prizes to those who got the most steps. I was all-in from the very beginning. We had some pretty competitive people involved and it took me a few months before I scored a victory.
Even better, was how the Fitbit fueled self-competition. I set a daily Fitbit goal and loved discovering new ways to get more steps. Those goals steadily increased as my fitness level increased.
To keep it interesting I added special goals for a week, month, and even entire year. That was the big one…getting 20,000 steps every day for a year without taking a single day off. In fact, I’m writing this on the day that streak began two years ago and it’s still going.
Turning exercise into a game makes it interesting and fun for me in a way that no other exercise activity has equaled. Reaching a daily Fitbit Goal also gives me the opportunity for an exercise win every day. This was HUGE at the beginning of my fitness journey when results seem so far away.Instead of focusing on the slow pace of fitness transformation I got to enjoy an exercise win every day I reached my goal. I still love those daily wins!
IT CREATED AN EXERCISE HABIT
Setting a daily Fitbit Goal did a couple things pretty quickly. First, I started moving a lot more. Second, the goal focused me on finding new ways to get more steps.
I discovered I could get 1,000 steps by walking for ten minutes. This realization transformed how I use my time. My daily Fitbit Goals started small, but increased as I found ten-minute chunks of time during the day where I could trade sitting for walking. For example, most football games have about an hour of commercials. If I get up and walk during the commercials that’s 6,000 steps.
This change of perspective helped me to create a new exercise habit. Throughout the day I was aware of how many steps I still needed to reach my goal. Remembering to keep my Fitbit charged and with me was a part of this daily habit.
Within weeks this daily repetition became an exercise habit. That habit is so strong now, it would take more energy to stop than it does to keep going.
IT INTEGRATED EXERCISE INTO MY LIFESTYLE
Exercise used to be this “other” activity that I had to find time for in my schedule. And, if I wasn’t feeling it that day or circumstances made it difficult, I could easily find an excuse to skip it. This was always a big challenge when my exercise happened at a gym. I tried the gym membership three different times in my life and it never stuck.
Because walking is so flexible and a normal part of life, exercise is now fully integrated in how I live each day. I no longer think of exercise as this “other” thing to squeeze into my day. Not only do I no longer look for excuses to get out of it, I look for ways to do walk even more!
DO YOU HAVE A FITBIT?
You don’t need a Fitbit to turn walking into exercise, but it wouldn’t have happened for me without one. I’ve used four different Fitbit models during the past seven years and the one I have now is my favorite.
If you don’t have a Fitbit I recommend the brand new Fitbit Inspire 2! The Inspire 2 has double the battery life, and also tracks your heart rate and sleep so you get an even wider picture of your fitness progress.
(By the way…if you use the links in this article to make a purchase this blog will receive a small commission. It won’t add anything to what you pay, but letting you know is the right thing to do)
QUANTITY VERSUS QUALITY
My daily Fitbit goal is 20,000 steps. That’s where it’s been for a while and that’s where I plan to keep it for the foreseeable future. But, here’s the thing…
Not all of those 20,000 steps every day counts the same. And, this is where I can start to sound like the doctor that I’m not.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends adults get between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate level physical activity every week. They tell us the health benefits are substantial, including a stronger heart. This level of physical activity can also lower the risk for diabetes, and some cancers, and depression. And, those are just the headline benefits. When you drill down into the details there’s even more.
It takes me about 1400 minutes every week to reach my daily Fitbit goal. That’s WAY ABOVE the CDC recommendations. But, the reality is a lot of my steps don’t reach the minimum threshold of “moderate” level.
There are two reasons for that. The first, and most obvious, is a lot of my steps are utility steps. In other words, getting from here to there.
The second reason is one of the rewards of fitness momentum. My fitness level is such that I have to push myself a little harder to get my heart rate up. My normal pace of walking doesn’t do it anymore. That might sound discouraging, but it really means my heart is stronger and it doesn’t have to work as hard now. That’s a good thing.
To be clear, research tells us that every step we take is beneficial. When I’m casually putting away laundry good stuff is still happening. But, to get those headline health benefits I need to be moving with a little more intensity.
HOW I MAKE WALKING EXERCISE
When I started walking for exercise my fitness level was lower and it didn’t take much for me to get my heart rate up. I could go for a 30 minute walk at a normal pace and that would have done it.
Now, my 30 minute walk needs a little more to push my heart rate higher. The easiest way for me to accomplish this is a walk through the neighborhood. We’ve got some pretty nice hills and that usually does the trick. And, when I’m not going up hills I’m walking with a little more intensity.It didn’t start this way for me. My fitness level was lower and a normal walk at a moderate pace was enough to get my heart rate into the cardio zone. As my fitness level increased, I had to push myself a little harder to get the same benefits. My Fitbit tracks my heart rate so I can see if I have enough intensity.
That walk I took this morning, as the sun was rising, gave me 39 minutes in the cardio zone according to my Fitbit. And, on the biggest hill it even pushed my heart into several minutes of peak zone.
But, I don’t always walk outside with a beautiful sunrise and signs of early spring. When I made my 20,000 steps a day a public commitment I had to find ways to reach that Fitbit goal when circumstances (weather) weren’t always favorable.
I found ways to walk for exercise in my house without a treadmill. In our basement I can walk from one room to the next. One way, it’s 25 steps and includes a scenic view of our family room currently under renovation.
I love telling the story of Jessica Slaughter who started walking for exercise in her one bedroom apartment. She’s in her 80’s and does 3,000 steps every morning going from the kitchen into her bedroom. Back and forth…back and forth…back and forth.
In our current situation, where exercise options are limited, I can always walk inside! There’s freedom in that. I don’t need to leave my house to get my cardio exercise. I’ve also found ways to exercise inside that can raise my heart rate into the peak zone. I’ll be writing more about that next week.
START OF SOMETHING NEW?
I believe walking is fitness hiding in plain sight. All it takes is some intentionality and you can build a fitness habit which creates fitness momentum, and eventually leads to fitness transformation.
I want to invite you to try The 30 Day Fitness Challenge. This free guide will walk you through how to get started. It’s very easy.