For a such simple, approachable activity, walking certainly does deliver some remarkable health benefits. Studies show that a daily brisk walk can help lower blood pressure, reduce belly fat, increase energy levels, and improve mood. (Customize your own walking plan with Walk Your Way to Better Health and lose up to 5X more belly fat!)
I’m a believer in the power of walking, and not only because of the research. Walking has always felt like an effortless way to be active and has long been my preferred way to get from point A to point B. My commute to-and-from work and out to grab lunch used to add about 2.5 miles worth of steps to my FitBit, but about three years ago, I began working from home and all that changed. Now, my commute is through one room, and down a long hallway. And with a stocked fridge right in the kitchen, I don’t often step out for meals. A few months into my new routine, I realized I had gained five pounds, I wasn’t sleeping as well, and my energy level dipped. Of course, there could have been all sorts of reasons for these changes, from new stresses to a slowing metabolism (one of the not-so-fun things that happens in your 30’s), but walking less felt like a major factor.
MORE: 6 Weird Reasons You’re Gaining Weight
So for one month, I resolved to go for a walk every day for a full hour. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults get five hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity weekly for maximum health benefits, so I guess I’m a bit of an overachiever. Here’s how my 30-day walk experiment went.
It was easy at first.
Kicking off projects—especially fitness-focused ones—usually means a lot of deliberation and planning beforehand for me. Last year’s swim class, for instance, required a new bathing suit and swim cap, researching teachers and class times, and finding a new hair conditioner to battle the chlorine. Not so for this new daily walk routine: All I needed to do was pick a day and get dressed.
Simple, right? I began my daily walks during a long weekend in Pittsburgh, a new-to-me city. Along with a few friends, I crisscrossed the city’s many yellow bridges, explored every floor of the Andy Warhol Museum, and visited as many neighborhoods as possible. I didn’t keep track the first day, but the second day of the trip, I racked up 7 miles. Like I said: Getting started was easy.
MORE: How To Start Walking When You Have 50+ Pounds To Lose
I started using a planner.
The ease of my Pittsburgh trip made me over-confident. When I’m not on vacation, I yearn for extra hours in the day to get everything done. So squeezing in an hour-long walk wasn’t always easy. I found that the best strategy was to walk in the morning before my to-do list became insurmountable. When that wasn’t possible (mostly due to overuse of the snooze button), the next best option was to have a time for a walk in mind, whether it was a lunchtime break, a walk to meet friends, or a purposefully far-away errand. Otherwise, I’d wind up down to the wire, lacing up sneakers at 10:30 or 11 PM.
The takeaway: Pencil your walks into a planner and vow to stick to your proposed schedule. (Lack the motivation to stick with a plan? These 10 weird ways to make yourself workout, even when you really don’t want to, can help.)
I got more Instagram “likes.”
When I made plans with friends, I kept suggesting walks—to see the cherry blossoms, through museums, over historic bridges, and so on. In turn, my Instagram feed got way more scenic, full of shots of bridges, parks, and other new areas I’d explored. I also made more phone calls to catch-up with friends and family than I have since the advent of text messages—walking solo can get a little lonesome, otherwise.
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I started falling asleep quicker.
There’s a satisfying ache extending down from my butt through the backs of my thighs right now. Some days, my calves are sore, too. No, I haven’t lost weight, but it’s possible my pants zip up easier (although that might be wishful thinking). I found myself falling asleep faster all month, too—and since I tend to toss and turn for ages, that’s a big deal for me.
The downside: After a bad blister from wearing thin socks and low-heeled boots, I now only walk wearing athletic sneakers—and normally this is fine. But if I want to dress up and wear cuter shoes, I have to tote them around in a bag and change when I get to my destination, which can be a bit of a drag. (Don’t love the idea of toting around an extra pair of shoes? These 9 walking shoes that are cute enough to wear anytime are the perfect solution.)
I gained a better sense of my surroundings.
A lot of destinations that seemed far away—an across-town shop, my best friend’s home, my favorite restaurant—turned out to be within walking distance. For many of my plans, I could drive 15 minutes, take a 30-minute subway ride, or just lace up my sneakers, stash a change of more fashionable shoes in my tote, and get where I needed to go in about an hour. My sense of what’s within walking distance has shifted a ton since the start of this experiment, and I plan to continue getting to more places on foot.
MORE: 14 Walking Workouts To Burn Fat And Boost Energy
I became even more addicted to my phone.
Before I began my daily walk routine, I imagined I’d spend time away from my phone during my ambles, thinking deep thoughts and admiring my surroundings. That was pure fantasy. My husband and friends joined me for many walks, but my phone was actually my most steadfast companion. If I wasn’t making a call, I was listening to a podcast or captioning a photo on Instagram. Often—very, very often—I responded to emails while walking, glancing up periodically to avoid collisions. (Could you be addicted to your smartphone? Here are 4 signs.)
I became less cranky.
JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images
Confession: I did not always feel like going for a walk. Many days I was tired, busy, or lazy, or had gone to yoga and felt like I’d checked off the “activity” requirement for the day. Take the second Monday of my 30-day stint: The weather was blustery, my inbox was overflowing, and I felt generally grumpy. Did I mention it was Monday? Only determination stopped me from crashing on the couch and watching TV as evening approached. I told myself a 30-minute walk would be better than none and went for it. An hour later, I was fully absorbed in a podcast—I even walked past my apartment to finish it up—and had vanquished my Monday gloominess. (These 10 simple ways to improve your mood could have also helped.)
After your walks, make sure you do this stretch:
That experience was typical: Even if I didn’t always want to go for a walk, I always felt better by the end of one—refreshed, and often full energy. And that was one of the biggest takeaways I got from this; a good, long walk really can be good for the mind and body.
Madeleine Burry Madeleine Burry is the former associate managing editor for Parents.com, and is currently a freelance writer, editor, and content strategist, with work appearing in Women’s Health, Health.com, and other online publications.
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