How Just a Short Walk Every Day Can Change Your Life
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Health & Fitness

How Just a Short Walk Every Day Can Change Your Life

It’s not the distance that matters, but how you do it

Man walks dog on grass away from the sun
Shutterstock

Around the time I turned 50, my metabolism retired. Calories now went straight from beer bottles to my beer belly. It was exercise or bust, my doctor said.

One recent study showed that people who exercise even a little each day lead longer, better lives. My alarmingly fit doctor recommended a daily walk. I said I was too busy (OK, lazy) for hiking

“Try it,” he said. “Just ramp it up a little every day.”

Fortunately, ramping up from zero is a breeze. 

I started with strolls around the block. It felt like a waste of time at first, but within a few days I looked forward to hearing birdsong instead of beeps and tinny video clips from my computer. 

Next came a slightly longer walk around the local cemetery. It felt good to be alive. In a month I was hiking a mile and a half to the supermarket and back. 

That led easily to a daily five-mile circuit. It takes an hour and fifteen minutes — a pleasant break from screens and memes — and there’re my daily 10,000 steps right there. 

I lost 15 pounds in three months, revealing the first hints of abs I hadn’t seen in years.

Along the way, I followed the advice of sports scientist Joanna Hall, founder of the online fitness community WalkActive. She likes to quote epidemiologist Ralph Paffenberger: “Everybody should take their dog for a walk every day, even if they don't have one.” 

But Hall cautions that technique matters as much as miles. A few tips: 

Consistency is key 

“Walk every day,” Hall says. “Even 10 minutes is great.”

Pay attention to your cadence

“A cadence of 120 beats per minute — two steps per second — puts your pace in sync with your heartbeat. That can stimulate walking’s mood-boosting effects and reduce anxiety and depression.”

Familiarity breeds productivity 

“Walking a familiar route can free up cognitive space for problem-solving,” Hall says.

That cognitive space can be fertile ground for hatching ideas that you can save on your phone. Whoever invented the dictation app did walkers a big favor. A walk can also be ideal for listening to podcasts or audiobooks, or catching up on phone calls.

Stay “foot loose”

“One common mistake is walking with passive feet — each foot hits the ground as one unit.” 

Instead of thudding along, try to stay loose and light on your feet. “Trying to use all 26 bone/joint interfaces we have in our feet can stimulate balance, improve blood flow to the brain and reduce knee pain.”

Send the right message 

“Visualize a sticky Post-it Note on the sole of your shoe,” Hall recommends. “As you walk, imagine you’re trying to show that message to the person behind you. This encourages ankle mobility, balance and posture, and can reduce lower back pain and improve mobility in your hips.” 

Some enjoy the company of fellow walkers, but I prefer the solitude and clear mental space a good walk provides.

Toward the end of my daily route, I pass an oak tree inhabited by a colony of squirrels. I’ve got a pocketful of peanuts and make a loud clucking noise as I approach. The squirrels hear human voices all the time, but only one human cluckers. They hustle down branches and out of holes in the tree to meet me. 

All it takes is a couple of handfuls of peanuts to make their day, and I leave feeling a little bit lighter, fitter and happier.

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