A Surprising Way Walking Can Improve Your Rest

On September 4, I decided to end my more than two year streak of walking at least 20,000 steps a day. I needed to rest. But, not in the way you may think.

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That morning we had accepted an offer to sell our house. This was the culmination of eight months of hard work getting it ready to sell. At the same time, I was also working a full-time job that included the responsibility of planning and running three on-air fundraisers for our radio station. I also expanded this blog to include a podcast. Oh…and I was walking 20,000 steps every day.

I was busy and after eight months I was tired.

We signed the contract offer to sell our house and then got in the car for Myrtle Beach and a long five-day weekend away. It was during that drive south that I decided I would not pursue walking 20,000 steps for the next five days. 

One of the hardest directions for me to follow when I’m making a repair or putting something together is:

DO NO OVERTIGHTEN

Have you ever experienced this? My most recent example came while getting the house ready and I replaced one of our toilets. There are two screws extending from the floor flange that get bolted to the bottom of the toilet. If you over tighten those bolts you could crack the porcelain. 

My default is to tighten every bolt until it can’t move any more. That way I know it’s secure! It’s really hard for me to stop tightening before I reach that point. But, of course the danger of over tightening is you could break something or place extra stress on a part that leads to its eventual failure.

I think some of us are the same way with life. It’s hard to stop when we can do a little bit more. We just keep going not aware we are stressing ourselves to the point of eventual failure.

Rest is a crucial part of health and fitness. Those who do strength training know that lifting weights isn’t what builds muscle. That stress tears the muscle down. It rebuilds during rest. If a weigh lifter never rests they are actually causing harm.

Our bodies are designed to need rest. If we cheat ourselves out of sleep or post exercise rest and recovery we will pay a price. But, that wasn’t the kind of rest I needed as we started heading for Myrtle Beach.

One of my goals for 2020 was to improve my sleep. I have to get up super early for my job and I had been cheating myself of sleep. Towards the end of 2019 I was really starting to feel that. I changed my bedtime routine so I could at least be in bed for eight hours a night. 

The difference was dramatic. My Fitbit sleep score climbed into the mid 80’s with an occasional peak into the 90’s. I felt so much better and stronger. This was huge as I began all that work on the house. The stress of a pandemic made that sleep adjustment even more crucial for navigating 2020.

For the past few years my fitness routine included not only lots of walking, but also daily strength training and high intensity cardio. Towards the end of summer 2019 I was feeling drained. This was my DO NOT OVERTIGHTEN moment. To get stronger I needed to do the counter intuitive thing. I needed to cut back. I had overtightened and it felt like I was ready to crack. 

I cut back my strength training to no more than four days a week and the high intensity stuff to three days. Within a few weeks of making that adjustment I could feel the difference and it was good.

Fas forward one year to the closing days of Summer 2020. I was feeling a similar drain, but couldn’t figure out what was causing it. I was sleeping well and I was not overtraining. I also have been making some nutrition adjustments and was actually eating better than I was a year earlier.

On that drive down to Myrtle Beach I realized what really needed rest. For the past eight months, I was not only physically active getting the house ready, but mentally active too. All of those house projects required a lot of planning and thinking through. And, most of them included a couple surprises that I then had to figure out. My MacGyver skills grew exponentially.

Those fundraisers in the midst of a pandemic and economy going in the wrong direction required an added level of brain power. So did all that goes with planning a move. Writing this blog and producing a weekly podcast was always on my mind. And, figuring out all to get 20,000 steps every day isn’t just a physical activity.

As we were heading south I didn’t need to think about my next house project. I could set aside stargazing for our upcoming fundraiser for a few days. I was weeks ahead with the blog and podcast so I could set that aside too. But, figuring out how to get 20,000 steps was on my mind.

My brain really needed to rest so I decided I was going to end my streak of walking 20,000 steps a day because I didn’t want to figure it out. I needed five days of rest from having to figure anything out other than where to put my beach chair.

There’s a growing body of evidence that supports the idea that our brains need downtime too. Of course, sleep is the most important way we can give our brain rest, but there are also routines we can put in place while we are awake too.

Life is fast and crazy and some call this mental overstimulation “cerebral congestion.” Giving our brains a break not only helps prevent the negative stuff like stress induced head aches, fuzzy thinking, and lack of motivation it can also lead to positive things like improved creativity.

During those five days in Myrtle Beach I didn’t stop walking. Instead I stopped thinking about it and strategizing how to reach a goal. Not surprisingly, perhaps, I still logged quite a few steps on my Fitbit including one day where I did exceed 20,000 steps. Those “free walks” became part of my rest. 

Walking is not only fitness hiding in plain sight, walking is also rest hiding in plain sight. Walking should not compromise how much sleep we get, but it can become a regular part of how we give our brain a break during the day.

One of the most intense and stressful parts of my life are the twice annual weekly fundraisers we do at the radio station. My brain is full-on engaged 14 hours a day for almost an entire week. I’ve learned that I need to take a 30 minute walk in the middle of each day. I’ve also learned that I can’t be thinking about the fundraiser while I’m walking either. Those walk breaks give my brain the rest and recovery it needs to finish the day strong.

During the last couple months of getting the house ready I was doing a lot of walks with an agenda. I had a problem to solve, a blog to write, or planning that had to be done with Ava. So I took a walk. And, they were productive walks.

What I did less of was walk with no agenda. I didn’t give my brain the opportunity to disengage and even rest. I felt that as we were heading to Myrtle Beach. Gratefully, I didn’t feel that as we were heading home. I also realized that needed to be more intentional about not only walking for fitness, but also walking for rest.

One of the most effective ways to incorporate walking for rest into your daily life is to first establish a daily habit of walking for fitness. That could transform your life in two significant ways. You are getting exercise and rest. To help you get started I encourage you to try The 30 Day Fitness Challenge.

This Challenge will help you set a daily step goal that’s right FOR YOU and provides helpful tools to reach that goal every day…even if you have struggled with establishing a fitness goal in the past.  The 30 Day Fitness Challenge is a free guide and you can get started today!

If you don’t have a Fitbit I recommend

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 link above to buy a Fitbit Inspire 2 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)

Lastly, this blog is designed to help you embrace walking as a fitness activity. It’s sustainable, flexible, effective, and fun. Every week I post new articles with stories and helpful suggestions.

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