Walking has incredible health benefits, helps with other health keystone habits and is very easy to integrate with your daily life. So get walking!
(En Español aquí)
It has become fashionable for wellness writers to claim that some habits are miracle drugs. This means that the proven health benefits of these habits are so significant that they would be accorded top blockbuster status if they were a new pharmaceutical compound. The most cited habit-based miracle drugs are four: sleep, meditation, nutrition and walking. And it is true that there is wide consensus and scientific evidence for the four of them.
Walking is the most accessible of the four and can be used as a keystone habit to reach the rest. Walking is something you can do in a lot of contexts and can even give you back time if you structure it well. Walking also helps sleep, can be the medium in which you meditate and will help you deal with calorie intake.
Walking is good because we were built as walking machines. Humans in our original hunter-gatherer lifestyles walked an estimated 6 to 16km each day. The most extended magic number for walking is the 10.000 steps per day (6–9km depending on your stride length) that the American Heart Association recommends and has been popularized by health trackers such as Fitbit. This number will give most of the health benefits associated with walking: a significant risk reduction in the most prevalent chronic diseases in the developed world (heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, high cholesterol, depression, Alzheimer’s) and also a mood boost each day. It is also a form of exercise with very limited impact on your joints according to traumatology specialists.
Why would not get all these great benefits? The typical answer is lack of time and habit. 10.000 steps can amount to one to two hours of walking depending on your speed. While this might seem challenging to include in your daily schedule, walking is surprisingly flexible and can actually help your efficiency and enjoyment. Walking is also free, so it is great for your budget, no gym fees or equipment needed.
As we will see getting your walking is mostly about being organized and embedding walking in many of your daily activities. Even improving your efficiency and enjoyment in some of them.
Ways in which you can embed walking in your day to day:
- Walking for transportation. The most basic use is just walking instead of taking the car or public transit. This is highly dependent on your commutes, but if you can’t walk the whole distance it is often possible to walk part of it. This is increasingly easy with the hireable vehicles (e.g. Car2Go) that are making their way into cities.
- Walking for social interactions. A second very typical use is taking a walk with someone instead of having coffee. It will be cheaper, healthier and you will be paying more attention to your friend or loved one. It does have a small social learning curve, as people are not as used to it, but it is good for both! I have found walking triggers the best conversations with my daughters.
- Walking for meetings or discussions. A surprising use when you take it to a work setting is to have a walk for a small meeting or discussion. In this case, it is important to have a clear route so you can devote all your brainpower to the meeting and control its time. The killer argument to convince people of this is that Steve Jobs used to do it. I still haven’t found someone who doesn’t want to be like Jobs.
- Walking for talking on the phone. This one is great. Talking on the phone is something some of us do a lot, and that we often do in a distracted state. Walking is the best guarantee that you won’t be looking at your phone or answering email on your computer. The conversation will get your full undivided attention, you will be surprised how more productive you will get. Noise is the great issue, so get a headset and find one with great noise cancellation. For some people, this is worth tens of thousands of steps a week.
- Walking for reading or consuming content. This is very dependent on your personal habits, as audiobooks and podcasts are not for everyone. Find what works for you. Why be sitting when reading or watching youtube if you can be walking around? You can even watch TV on the walk, just pick a safe route.
- Walking for thinking. Walking is absolutely great if you need to think. You concentrate more easily and your brain works better on the move. Just remember to take something to write it all down.
- Walking for meditation. I find sitting meditation very challenging. However, walking meditation works great. Maybe this is your ticket to physical and mental health through meditation.
I would love to hear all other ideas on how to integrate walking in your daily life. Let me share two things I haven’t been able to mesh with walking yet:
- Working on a computer. I’ve heard about standing desks and tried voice interfaces, but not working for me yet.
- Large-scale or document-based meetings. If you go beyond three people or need to review a document the walking meeting becomes awkward. Ideas welcome.
On the whole, walking can help you greatly as a keystone habit that has tremendous health benefits, so get going. For me, the trigger was getting a Fitbit, which makes you aware of your real walking. Basic models are quite affordable. You can track it with your smartphone but is not the same. From there, start setting goals and engineering your day to get to them.