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Walking has proven benefits for your health, both phycical and mentally. It can even help you loose weight. Get walking everyday and you will quickly start feeling better!
In this post I share how I went from hardly moving to walking every day. Now, I walk two hours a day! I will share what worked and what didn’t. I will also share how I finally established the habit using the Personal Management Cycle. The idea is that you learn, plan, systemise and review what is working and what isn’t until the habit becomes almost automatic!
Learn the Benefits of Walking
A few years ago, I was struggling with a number of issues. Many of them caused by me developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from a particularly bad relationship. At this point in time I had completed therapy for my PTSD but I was still in recovery. And I was experiencing significant anxiety.
I had also developed significant muscular pain in my hip that wouldn’t go away. I tried a number of different treatments, including cortisone injection, acupuncture, ultrasound and lots and lots of physiotherapy, but nothing worked.
Between the anxiety and the joint pain I wasn’t moving much. And with that, I had gained a significant amount of weight making me properly overweight.
I wasn’t in a place where I felt big changes were possible. Dieting wasn’t and option as being hungry triggered my anxiety. I didn’t exercise. Truth be told, I didn’t move very much at all.
I cused to be a fairly active person, but the joint pain had made me stop walking to work. Now, I was driving instead. I used to do some exercise but that didn’t happen anymore. All in all, I was feeling rather rubbish.
Turning a Corner
I didn’t want to feel that way. I wanted to do something, however small, to feel better. To know I was on the right track. Looking at the research for all three issues there was one “recovery tool” they all had in common. Walking.
Walking, and especially walking in nature, is a generally accepted way of improving a myriad of mental health issues, including anxiety. If you live in the UK, just take a look at the NHS website about walking and anxiety. If not in the UK, take a look at your local healthcare provider’s webpage or google “anxiety” and “walking” to find more information.
Read More: 10 Health Benefits of a Daily Morning Walk
I did realise that my weight gain wouldn’t magically turn around just because I started walking. I did however know that it was going to be a step in the right direction (no pun intended!). As I wasn’t going to go on a drastic diet, I could least try to improve my fitness a bit.
My biggest concern was my hip pain that didn’t allow me to move much. I realised however, that this was really one of those times where I had to find the minimum that I could do, and do it consistently.
If you are not convinced of the need or benefit or walking, or feel it’s not for you, I strongly recommend that you read Katy Bowman’s Move your DNA. In this book Katy explains the science of the need for natural movement. She does it in an easy and engaging way and gives a lot of practical tips for those of us for whom movement are for one reason or another, just not happening.
Every single thing our bodies do requires movement—initiated by our musculoskeletal system—to be performed with ease. Digestion, immunity, reproduction—all of these functions require us to move. You can eat the perfect diet, sleep eight hours a night, and use only baking soda and vinegar to clean your house, but without the loads created by natural movement, all of these worthy efforts are thwarted on a cellular level, and your optimal wellness level remains elusive.Katy Bowman -Move your DNA
Plan to Get Walking
Once I’d made the decision to start walking I needed to figure out when, where, how often and how long. What would be my trigger and my reward?
The most important thing for me was that it:
- was sustainable.
- didn’t trigger my hip pain.
To this end, I decided not to put a minimum time or distance on my walks. If I put on my shoes and stepped out of my house I was allowed to count it as a walk.
It turned out though, that when those shoes were on, I usually walked a bit longer than out the door and back again…! I really needed to focus on my body instead of just pushing through (as I’m well known to do), to only walk as far as I could do with minimal discomfort.
I then decided to try walking after work. At the time, I worked some days in the office and some days from home. I found that coming home (from the office) or finishing work (working from home) was a good trigger.
Systemise Your Daily Walk
Taking a walk after work helped me process my day. It made me more relaxed in the evening which was an unexpected reward. It wasn’t enough as a reward though. Neither was the “feel good” of taking a walk. Despite trying to get my habit to stick I often felt too tired to be bothered.
I played around with making changes to my trigger (maybe I should walk in the mornings?). I also tried to change the actual habit (was it better to track the number of steps per day to spread out my walking?). Finally, what made the habit take hold was when I found an additional reward.
I feel quite silly writing this, but what made me start actually walking every day was a friend introducing me to Pokémon Go!
Just in case there is someone not familiar with this game, it’s a mobile phone game based on walking around and catching Pokémon’s. To do that you need to visit different places in your neighborhood, you get bonuses for the amount you walk and for walking and playing every day.
Playing a game on my phone!! Without anyone judging me for sitting around playing on my phone! I want to go out and catch more Pokémon! This was a real turning point for me as it gave me a reward strong enough, in those early days, to make me want to go out. Breakthrough!
Review What is Working
I have a habit tracker on my phone where I enter habits I’m working on. I make a simple tick for every day I do the habit and I entered “walk” as a habit to be performed once a day.
Something I struggeled with was what actually counted as a walk. (If I went to the local shop, could I count it as “going for a walk” or if I went shopping with a friend and my feet were sore, could I say I had “gone for a walk”?!?). In the end I decided to be kind to myself. I remembered that the best habit is the one you actually do. So, Idecided that if I had my shoes on and walked further than the car, then I could count it as a walk.
In those early days I rarely walked more than 15 minutes per day. That didn’t matter though, the important thing was that I walked! I checked how I was doing in my tracker and, very occasionally, pushed myself out the door when I really didn’t feel like it (Pokémon or not!). Slowly but surely it became a habit.
Continue Your Walking Habit for a Long, Long Time
Today, years later, I walk twice a day for an hour each most days. (Something I could only dream about when I started!) I can fit this in before and after work as I’m now working from home every day. (A COVID initiated working from home that I’ve since made permanent.) Now, I just don’t feel right if I don’t get my body moving a couple of times a day.
I have since swapped Pokémon for audiobooks and podcasts, and I really look forward to this time as my treat. I still track my walking in my habit tracker but these days I also do my weekly “healthstyle” review. (A term I’ve borrowed from Darya Rose and her book Foodist.) What this means it that I take 5 minutes every Saturday, while I’m walking anyway, to think through how things have been going the past week. How I have been moving, what I have been eating and how I feel. I also make plans for the week to come.
My goal hasn’t changed though. If I put my shoes on and walk further then my car then I count it as a win! It still happens on the odd day I’m feeling really rubbish that I only walk for 5 minutes. More often than not however, those rubbish feelings start going away as soon as I get out and start walking.
And what about all of my ailments you ask? I’m happy to report that they are all better! Not just because of the walking, and I will share other ways I’ve been working on them in other blog posts, but walking has been a real corner stone in my improvement.
Now, it’s Up to You
Do you walk? Would you want to? Or do you have another kind of movement you prefer to get your daily movement dose? Share and let me know how you get on trying out different approaches to daily movement!
If you are interested in the benefits and learn how to move more, and move better, check out Move Your DNA by Katy Bowman.
For more tips, check out the Resources for Personal Development page.