If you put me on a lie detector and demanded that I tell you what I think is more important: walking or exercise, I’d probably tell you walking. Walking, just getting up and moving around, is important. Really important. Elbaz et al (2013) found that “walking speed measured in late midlife seems to be an important marker of mortality risk.” Meaning the slower and less we get up a move around, the more likely things aren’t going well for us overall.
Walking is also a major factor in that phenomenon that is referred to vaguely as, “metabolism.” You know that whole, “I’m older now and my metabolism is slower” thing? For a lot of people it just means we’re taking fewer steps than we used to.
In short, walking is really important, which you probably knew. So how can you sneak more of it into your day, especially during the winter months? Well good news! My clients, colleagues and I have been doing a bunch of experiments with new walking habits that have actually increased out daily step count without really even trying. We used the MyFitnessPal app to see how many steps each habit added and here’s what we’ve learned:
Walk when you’re on the phone. Most of us who work desk jobs take at least a couple of phone calls a week. Or maybe just an hour phone call with Mom. I recently made it a habit to walk around when I was on the phone and it added a little less than 100 steps per minute. Even when I was just pacing around my house! One day I fielded 4 phone calls and walked more than 24,000 steps just while I was on the phone. That’s 12 miles, and it was only Monday.
Every time you catch yourself surfing the internet, go for a walk. I tried this out with a client who was particularly frustrated with her surfing habit and it worked on two levels: she moved more (1,200 steps each break and about another 4,000 steps per day) and found that she returned to work more refreshed after the breaks. The key was not going anywhere (like to get a coffee or a snack), just taking a walk around the block or down the hall and back a few times. This actually DOUBLED the amount she was walking every day.
Have walking meetings. For the most part, meetings have a standard format. Sit. Get bored. Fight to stay awake. Maybe bring your laptop so you can pretend you’re taking notes. You know what changes all that? Walking. Not just standing, but actually covering ground. Not only do you get more walking in (my client that tried this added 2,000 steps per meeting) but the attendees are forced to stay engaged and awake. As an extra bonus, meetings get shorter and more to the point!
Meet your friends at the mall. Remember High School? Meeting up your friends at the food court even though you might be too broke to buy any food? Walking to meet other friends? Maybe walking to look at things you couldn’t buy in the stores? My grandparents gave up on bars and coffee shops to catch up with friends and just started meeting them at the malls in Memphis, TN to “go for a walk.” They logged about 10,000 steps per visit, all in heated and air-conditioned comfort while they caught up with friends and gossip. Just like teenagers.
Buy an audiobook and do at least one errand a day on foot. This one is from a colleague who only has certain audiobooks that she listens to when she goes to check her mail. Her walk to the mailbox is more than a mile round trip, and she often walks right on past it into order to hear more of what’s happening in her novel. I personally tried this tip with a 688 page biography of Stonewall Jackson and will log 18 miles on the MyFitnessPal app by the time I’m done. And the best part is I’m trying to find excuses to get out and walk!