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Would you like to make walking every day a habit, but you always find a reason why tomorrow is a better day to start? You are not alone! Learn the 4 easy steps to make walking a daily habit that worked for me, and how you can use them to start a walking habit that works in your life!
Why I Decided to Make Walking a Habit
Some years ago, I was struggling in life. My main problem was that I had developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from a particularly bad relationship. I had had therapy for the PTSD but I was still in recovery and was experiencing a lot of anxiety.
I also had a lot of pain in my hip that wouldn’t go away, so 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 because of my hip pain. Truth be told I didn’t move very much at all.
Before all this, I used to be a fairly active person who walked to work and exercised a couple of times a week. Now, I was instead driving to work, and I had completely stopped exercising. All in all, I was feeling rather rubbish.
Deciding to Make a Change
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.
I started looking at small changes I could do to get better, and one thing came up over and over again – walking. It was time to take my first steps (literally) towards recovery.
Why do You Want to Make Walking a Habit?
The reason why you want to make walking a habit may not be as drastic as mine. Maybe you just want to get some exercise and feel a bit better.
But maybe you’re like I was, feeling rather rubbish and just looking for something, anything, to make life just a little bit better, one step at the time.
In either case, have a good think about your motivation. By knowing exactly why you want to change, and what will happen if you don’t, you are much more likely to actually change!
Step 1: Learn the Benefits of Walking
In addition to knowing why you want to change, you need to be convinced that walking will actually help you reach your goals, in order to make the habit stick long term.
Benefits of Walking Every Day for 30 Minutes:
- Reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, breast and colon cancer
- Help stabilise blood sugar
- Boost immune function
- Helps manage weight
- Strengthens joints and muscles
- Increases your energy
- Lifts your mood
- Reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety
- Lowers risk of Dementia and Alzhimer’s Disease
- Improves Sleep
- Improves mental focus and clarity
What do you think? Will making walking a daily habit help you reach your goals?
Read More: 10 Health Benefits of a Daily Morning Walk
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
Step 2: Plan How to Make Walking a Habit that Works for You
There is probably a reason you haven’t made walking a habit yet. For me, it was my hip pain. It didn’t allow me to move much and I couldn’t just start walking 30 minutes a day.
What’s your reason? Is it that you don’t have the time, you can’t walk for very long, or do you just find walking boring? Keep this in mind as we look at how to create a new habit. Is this a good reason, or is it an excuse?
Make Walking a Habit
There are 3 steps in creating any new habit: Trigger, Action and Reward.
Trigger or Cue
When will you go for a walk? Will you do it a specific time every day? Or will you have another trigger like walking when you wake up, walking to work, or at your lunch break? Make a decision and schedule it, just like you would any other important activity.
Response or Action
This is what you will do – take a walk. But where will you go and for how long? They key to any sustainable habit is to make it as small that you can do it even on your worst day. You can for example decide that you should walk a minimum of 5 minutes every day, but that you should try for more on the days you feel like it. (Trust me, you will feel like it more often than not!)
Finally, you need to feel like you get something out of doing the habit. Knowing it reduces the risk for illnesses in the long term is great, but it’s unlikely to get you out the door day after day. Luckily, walking will make you feel better in the short term as well, by producing endorphins and making you more alert.
This may not be enough initially however, and if you don’t think that the ‘feel good’ of a walk will make you want to do it again and again, you might want to think of another reward – something else you can get out of it.
Can you use this time to listen to your favourite music, podcast or audio book? Maybe you’d like a gold star in your calendar, or promise yourself a reward if you walk every day for a week?
What would make you want to walk every day?
How I Made Walking Everyday Work for Me
When I considered how to make walking a habit I realised that 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 however, 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 also 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.
I didn’t initially ‘add’ a reward, I hoped that just feeling better from walking would be enough to make me keep doing it again and again. That didn’t work as planned however….
Step 3: Systemise Your Walking Habit
At one point, you have to stop planning and start doing. You need to actually take a walk! And then you need to do it again the next day.
As I started taking my short walks ever day, I found that 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 considered 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 walking a habit for me 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 local area, and 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 wasting time! I truly wanted 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!
Finding your reward is often key to making a new habit stick, so don’t be afraid to think outside the box when considering what would make you want to go out for a walk.
Step 4: Review if You Made Your Walking Habit Work
As you try out different ways of getting yourself out the door, you will want to make sure you evaluate how it’s going. What works and what doesn’t.
It’s a good idea to track how often you go for a walk, and then spend some time evaluating what is working and what isn’t.
If you don’t already have a habit tracker you can download a free app to your phone, or you can use the habit tracker included in the free habit worksheet below.
How I Reviewed my New Walking Habit
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 struggled 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, I decided 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 a Walking Habit Long Term
Today, years later, I walk for an hour or two 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 a weekly check-in with myself 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. Have I been walking every day this week? And if not, what happened? And what can I do to set myself up for success moving forward?
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 of course, but it was an important step to make me feel a little better, and as I started to feel better, I had more energy to take the next step in my recovery journey.
Your strategy for long term walking may look different than mine. You might prefer to have an accountability buddy, to use gold stars in your kitchen calendar, or maybe you keep your motivation up by continue to learn about all the benefits with walking.
Learn more about how to keep your habits up long term in the post: Long Term Habits: How to make Habits Last a Lifetime
Make Walking a Habit that Works for You
Do you want to make walking a daily habit? If so, now is the time to take action. Plan out how you will start your habit and then get going!
Nothing will ever change because you learn about the benefits of a daily walking habit. Nor will they change because you make great detailed plans for when you will be walking and how you will reward yourself.
These things are all important, but unless you actually go for a walk you will never experience those benefits.
This is your time. Make your future self a favour and start today!
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.