Our next door neighbor had already done the hardest thing. Every morning, she would walk back and forth on her porch for ten minutes. That was not the hard thing. The hard thing came before she even started.
I remain mystified why everyone is not walking for exercise. Research continues to tell us that walking is an effective way to improve your fitness and health. Additionally, we don’t need studies to tell us that walking is also easy, flexible, and fun.
Of course, not all walking is equal exercise. Casually ambling through a store is not the same as walking briskly up a hill. But, all walking is beneficial. Especially in light of a new round of research telling us how dangerous it is to sit too much or for too long. Walking at any speed is a healthy choice.
Yet, many people continue to view walking only as a functional way to get from here to there and will expend energy to do as little of that as possible. The average person walks between 3,000 and 4,000 steps a day…which is 1.5 to 2 miles or only 30 to 40 minutes a day.
The hardest part of fitness is not physical…it’s mental. The hardest part of fitness is changing the way we think.
I admired our neighbor’s commitment. She was walking on her porch when the weather was comfortable and also when it wasn’t. I suspect she was also walking when it was physically comfortable and also when it wasn’t. That commitment was the result of how she thought about exercise, fitness, and even walking.
I believe most people don’t walk for exercise because of their thinking in three primary areas.
I DON’T NEED EXERCISE
One of the biggest motivations for exercise is to prevent something bad from happening or to change something bad that’s already happening. I remember a radio host several decades ago talking about his new commitment to walking on a treadmill for almost an hour every morning. This happened after he had a heart attack. That’s a pretty powerful motivation for fitness.
But, what about before the heart attack? I suspect, he knew at some level exercise was good, but his life was too busy to make time for it. Our actions really say a lot about our beliefs. If someone is not pursuing fitness it means at the deepest level they really don’t believe they need it.
And, I get it. If you generally feel fine and nothing “is broke” exercise feels more like a luxury, not a necessity. On top of that, a lot of the emphasis on exercise is about how we look. And, if you’re OK with your appearance your need for exercise feels pretty minimal.
Of course, the best fitness journey starts before there’s a crisis. This means you have to wrap your brain around the reality that our bodies are in a long, slow state of decline. While no one can stop that from happening, exercise is a key component to make that decline more gentle and is an investment in extending good health as long as possible.
It’s hard to change your thinking from being reactive to being proactive. It’s hard to make a commitment to something that doesn’t feel urgent. But, if you want exercise to become a foundational part of your lifestyle, it must happen.
WALKING IS NOT EXERCISE
While more of us are embracing walking as effective exercise, it is not universal. If it was, there would be no spaces available at the back of the parking lot.
By definition, exercise must push us. It’s that intentional stress on your body that brings about the benefit of exercise. Since walking doesn’t always feel like a push, it might not feel like exercise either.
But, research continues to validate walking as an effective form of exercise. If you take a brisk (3mph pace) 30 minute walk every day you’re exceeding the CDC’s minimum guidelines for weekly activity.
You and I have been walking since we were one year old. We don’t even remember learning how to do it. It’s just part of our everyday life. We don’t even think about it. And, that’s where the change in thinking needs to happen. For walking to become effective exercise there needs to be some intentionality to it.
Walking is effective exercise only if we proactively decide to make it so. Getting a Fitbit and setting a daily goal helped me to change my thinking about walking as exercise. It went from a functional part of my day to an important investment in my current and future health.
WALKING FOR EXERCISE IS NOT EXCLUSIVE
I used to be a runner. That was my main form of exercise for about five years. If I was out running and saw another runner we usually exchanged a little wave. It felt exclusive. My wife is a runner and before the accident she ran marathons and ultra-marathons. I loved telling her how few people on the planet are willing and able to run as far as her.
When I’m out walking there is no little “walker’s wave” indicating that we’re both part of an exclusive club. I haven’t done anything the world thinks it special and unique. I walked. Everybody walks. Walking for exercise just doesn’t feel special.
For some, this doesn’t matter. But, for others, if they’re being honest, it actually does. Exercise is hard. Starting and staying with a fitness journey is hard. Somehow it can feel like a disconnect if the fitness activity doesn’t also feel hard and exclusive.
The reality, though, is if you exercise every day you’re in an exclusive club. If you walk 10,000 steps a day, you’re in an even more exclusive club. And, if you age well and spend very little time seeing doctors and even less time standing in line at the pharmacy, well that’s a highly exclusive club I want to be a part of.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
The hard part of exercise is thinking about it the right way and then making a commitment to action. I know that exercise is important and walking is effective. If you’re ready to change your thinking and actions about exercise and walking I want you to have this 30 Day Walking Challenge. It will help you get started on a new fitness journey that will change your life.
Hi Dave, thanks for including the written version of your blog. For whatever reason I get more and retain more of what read than what I hear.
Have you ever addressed how one might manage the stress or impact of walking more (especially initially) on knees, feet, even hips. If I do a lot of walking, trying to walk for exercise, I notice pain in the aforementioned. I think this may be experienced more noticeably by us older folks.
Walking on the trails in our town does make you feel like part of a “club.” Whether passing other walkers, runners, or bicyclists, there’s almost always a “good morning,” a smile, or a little wave. Maybe we’re just an overly friendly bunch. We often pass the same people on a regular basis, which forms a sort of connection after awhile.
I have broken my collarbone and It seems that walking is now my only option for exercise for the next 8 weeks. I plan to make the most of it and enjoy my walks!