the best tweak I’ve made to my exercise routine

Yesterday I ranted about biking around New York. Today I share my #1 trick for staying fit at home and when travelling. I walk. And I walk. And I walk.

Photo by Eugene Tan, Aquabumps
Photo by Eugene Tan, Aquabumps

I used to be a runner. I’d run ten kilometres to and from work each day. I’d run on the beach, and in the bush. I’d compete in soft sand races and go for 3-hour bush runs on weekends. But it all began to take its toll. I got injuries, hip complaints and, in general, the rushed, harried nature of running felt wrong. We’re not meant to push ourselves. We are meant to move, and be energised, yes. But, like New York Times writer Gretchen Reynolds says,

Humans are born to stroll.

I’ve since tweaked my exercise routine. I’m softer and gentler on myself these days. I still exercise daily, and I’ve shared how I exercise recently.
But to walking: It does all the stuff running does – strengthens the heart and lungs, increasing overall fitness, help with weight loss and tone up muscles (people who live in walkable neighbourhoods are 2.7-4.5kg lighter), is great for your bones and, done the right way, it burns as many calories as running without the high impact injuries. It is also the best cure for anyone (me!) who gets inflammation and water build up – it helps to drain the lower legs of excess fluid, and helps prevent varicose veins by the pumping action of the calf muscles.

And because you end up walking at a more consistent speed than running, it’s a more beneficial form of tissue-cleansing:

Walking pumps out toxins.

And the benefits go on.

But, says the science and my own experience, the trick is…do it every day. Every day. Several times a day.

And here’s how to get more walking into your day.

1. Walk to work. And parties. Don’t use excuses. Everyone can walk at least part of the way – park 20 minutes from the office or whatever. Do it every day.

2. Use Google Maps. I have it on my phone and use the “walking” icon to both show me the shortest way to walk somewhere and to estimate the time. I shave off about 20 per cent because I walk faster than their timings.

3. Realise walking is faster than driving. Add up the time it takes for a 15 minute car trip: the in-and-out of the car, the getting stuck in traffic, the finding a park and so on. It adds up to 30 minutes quickly. Walking will often be faster: it’s door-to-door, you don’t get held up by traffic and you can go the way the crow flies. Plus you arrive with a clear, calm head.

4. Download the ABC Radio app and books. Walk and learn. Or walk and listen to Classic FM.  I do.

5. Get your shoe situation sorted. Get a pair of soft-soled shoes that look presentable (you don’t have to do a Jerry Seinfeld look). Light and simple is good. I, admittedly, wear Nike Frees. They tick all boxes; all shoes are made somewhere overseas and Nike has cleaned up its act.

6. And get over sitting in gutters. I walk to fancy dinners on a Saturday night, carrying heels in a canvas bag and swap out of my sneakers the block before. I meet other people who do the same and we all do this: sit on a stoop or in a gutter before and after, no shame. I also walk to Sunrise studios in the mornings, and to fancy work functions. Here in New York I walked between every publisher meeting – swapping my shoes in the flash lobbies of each one. Whatever.

7. Have walking meetings. If someone needs to chat something through in the IQS office, we walk to the post office or out to grab a coffee. I book in phone calls with people and plan to walk and talk in that time slot. I think better this way, too and am more mindful. Aristotle used to lecture his followers as he wandered the Lyceum. Sigmund Freud and Charles Dickens were also known to work on the move. In this Ted talk the benefits of walking meetings are outlined.

8. Walk like you mean it. This article points out walking burns as many calories as running if done right. (Heel lands first; as you take the movement from heel towards the ball of the foot, try to make a slight rolling motion inwards. This will help to give you more power when you push off with your foot.)

9. Get competitive with yourself. If you don’t mind your power being chewed down, download Moves for iphone app and check your daily steps. Aim for 10,000 a day.

10. Find a walking book club. Yeah! There’s a few in London these days, but for those of us outside of the UK, maybe start your own.

11. Have a walking date. Cafes can be tedious; meet your mate for a takeaway coffee and stroll.

12. Do bush excursions. Most weekends I do this. I head out on a train or ferry to areas around Sydney to hike for 2-3 hours. You can follow me on instagram and search #bushexcursions (the geotags will tell you where I go). My trick is to turn the whole trip into a walking excursion where I don’t need a car. I use Google Maps (the public transport icon) and it will outline a “trains, ferries and automobiles” route for me, with walking bits inbetween…followed by a walk.

13. When all else fails, just walk. Me, I’ll often do a 20-minute walk in the afternoon if I’ve had to skip exercise in the morning, for some reason. I keep it simple – I walk around the neighbourhood and just get calm and clear. I turn it into a flanerie.

14. Do it every day. All day. Government health recommendations suggest 30 minutes daily, five days a week. You could always split the walk into a couple of 15-minute journeys each day (the science says this is fine and just as effective as a long one!) or make up for lost time with an extra-long walk at the weekend.

Any walking tips you’d like to add? Stuff to make it smoother?

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