My dad had a heart attack in his fifties. This caused him to make lifestyle changes that improved his diet and added more exercise. He had been a weekend golfer for years, but after his sojourn in the hospital, he took up walking as well. A decade into his new habit, he recommended it to me. While he had a target heart rate that he tried to maintain – carrying hand weights to do so – he told me to forget all that, to just go for a walk four or five times a week. He said I didn’t have to speed walk or even monitor my pace. I just needed to go for a walk. He promised me if I did so, I would be healthier than the vast majority of my peers.
As a result of Dad’s urging, I started my own walking habit 33 years ago. I walk for an hour a day, five days a week. I recommend it to you as does almost every doctor in the world. Indeed, a publication from Harvard Health Publishing says walking “is the closest thing we have to a wonder drug.”
What makes my opinion on this topic different from all the rest you will read online is this: I still listen to Dad’s advice – I don’t push it. I don’t try to walk farther or faster each time; I just go for an hourlong walk. When I started walking at age 34, I traveled almost four miles in an hour. Now at 67, it’s just over three miles. I don’t worry about this. I just keep walking. As a result, my BMI is 20.99. A healthy BMI is 18.50-24.99 and more than 50% of Americans do not fall in this range. Hence, I got exactly what Dad promised.
If you want to follow in our footsteps, here’s how:
- Schedule it.
It is difficult to find the time to exercise, so in the beginning, you should literally make five appointments with yourself every week, and add them to your calendar. If you wait to see if there is time at the end of the day to walk, I promise there will not be. One reason walking is great for busy people is that there is usually no drivetime to add in. You don’t have to travel to the gym; you just open your front door and go. The only problem is the possibility of inclement weather. This is when a big box store comes in handy. Rainy, icy, and overly hot days find me walking up and down the aisles at Kroger, Meijer, Target, or Walmart. Walking laps at the mall is also great. I have done that so often that a vendor in the food court once assumed I was a mall employee and offered me a discount!
- Reward yourself.
It is difficult in the beginning to create a new habit, so I added an incentive: I paid myself a dollar each day I walked. Walking five times a week, this came to $260/year. According to a 2019 article in TheHustle.com, the average gym membership costs $696/year, so my plan is a great bargain, not to mention that every cent will go back into your piggy bank, allowing you to buy a nice bauble for yourself at year’s end. And if this incentive doesn’t appeal to you, that’s no problem. Just find one that does!
- Make it fun.
It is difficult to keep the habit going because walking can be boring, so I make it fun by having a walking partner whenever possible. Trust me, you reach a special level of friendship when you spend five hours a week with any given friend, not to mention the fact that you can tell a L-O-N-G story when necessary. No candidates for an actual walking partner? No problem. Use your cell phone to call a friend and then walkie and talkie with that person. Or, if that doesn’t work, you can use your phone to listen to podcasts or books-on-tape, which will make you as knowledgeable as you are healthy.
Over time, these difficulties vanish. After three decades, my walking habit is as ingrained as brushing my teeth. I don’t have to pay myself to walk or schedule it on my calendar; I just wake up at 6:00, and I am out the door walking by 7:00. Additionally, I have a walking partner! Robin walked with me for years, and when she moved away, Sue stepped into her place. I have to drive ten minutes to meet Sue, but our ever-deepening friendship is well worth the drive. On days that Sue is not available, my favorite podcasts are. I have Terry Gross on Fresh Air and/or Anna Sale on Death, Sex & Money, and they are always ready to entertain me.
Regarding your mindset: I had a wonderful yoga teacher once who told the class that we should not expect instant success in our yoga practice. However long it had taken our bodies to get out of shape, that’s how long it could take to get back in shape. Heeding her wisdom, if you have been physically inactive for a long time, start small with this new exercise regimen. Start by walking ten minutes a day, five times a week. Do this for a week or two – or even for a month – before moving up to 15 or 20 minutes, whatever your inner voice deems appropriate for you. When you are ready, move up to 30 minutes or more, noting that “the minimum prescription for good health is 30 minutes of moderate-intensity walking, five days per week.” (This is according to ConsumerReports.org.) And of course, it is always important to check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program.
Warning! Warning! Warning! I would be remiss if I did not tell you that a long-term walking habit comes with an annoying problem. Here it is: After establishing your walking habit and getting your BMI back in line, your friends will comment on how lucky you are to be naturally fit! They will completely discount the fact that you have been out there pounding the pavement for months, years, or decades. Trust me, this can be annoying. And trust me, it’s a great problem to have!
Your front door is close at hand. Open it and step out. Better health awaits you.
Note from Lorie: Love my blogs? Check out my new book! It’s available on Amazon.