walking as exercise

How I Took Walking for Granted

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“Increasingly, studies are reaching an elementary conclusion: a consistent routine of walking is just as good as running for preventing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and cancer. As a bonus, those who walk vigorously and consistently enjoy improved cognitive function and mood, and measurably lower mortality rates.” Run for Your Life by Dr. Mark Cucuzzella

To dismiss walking as exercise is to let the perfect become the enemy of the good.

The best kind of exercise is the exercise you will actually do.

Do you struggle with keeping your exercise routine? Do you “go hard” running, hitting the gym, or following an exercise video, then get injured, sore, or burned out and take weeks or months off?  This post is for you.

The Goldilocks principle

In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear discusses the Goldilocks Principle. The Goldilocks Principle the idea that, in order for us to enjoy an activity and feel motivated to do it again, that activity needs to be in that “just right” sweet spot – not too easy and not too difficult. If it doesn’t challenge us at all, we tend to get bored and believe it’s a waste of time. If it is too difficult (or painful), then we’re likely to be discouraged and give up. Our motivation is at its highest, and we are thus more likely to keep doing an activity, when it falls into that middle area – just challenging enough to keep us engaged, yet easy enough that we are encouraged to do it again.

Friend, why do you keep falling off of the proverbial exercise wagon?

Might I suggest that it could be because you’re pushing yourself too hard?

  • Have you bought into the false notion that if you’re not panting and sweating at least 30-45 minutes per session, exercise isn’t worth the time and effort?
  • Has media convinced you that walking isn’t “real” exercise?
  • Do you think that, in order to burn fat, build muscle, or improve your cardiovascular fitness, you must push yourself at an uncomfortable pace during every exercise session?

These false ideas discourage us from simply moving our bodies as God intended for us to do. We need a more long-term goal when it comes to exercise. And we need much more light-to-moderate activity to stay healthy. Evidence is building that even consistent runners who are sedentary during the remainder of their day are not setting themselves up for long-term health.

Let’s think long-term

My husband’s grandmother is 98. She still walks the sidewalks of her retirement community and goes to exercise classes. Just a couple of years ago, she was the first to achieve the “Walking Across America” milestone at her community. Scheduling visits with her can be somewhat challenging due to her exercise, meals with friends, and excursion schedule.

I want to be like Grandma when I’m in my 90’s.  Mobile.  Sharp.  These are long-term goals that are more important than what size jeans I wear or my minute per mile time. 

No diet trend is going to get me there. Grandma didn’t “cut carbs”. She didn’t run a 27 minute 5k. But she was active. She always kept busy both physically and mentally. She knew that movement was good for her and so she made it a priority. And she moved at a pace that she enjoyed so that she was able to consistently maintain it into her 90’s.

She ate regular meals, cooked at home, and didn’t graze or snack all the time. She enjoyed bacon AND bread regularly without guilt – along with plenty of vegetables, of course. She didn’t obsess about her weight and she didn’t eat to soothe or escape her emotions.

There are so many lessons we can learn from Grandma!

Walking as a cure for my running

Since I began accepting walking as legitimate exercise – and doing it consistently – I’ve noticed several benefits.

  1. I look forward to it. I enjoy exercise much more and enjoy how I feel during as well as after.
  2. I actually WANT to run once in a while. I haven’t felt that way in quite a while.
  3. I’ve lost a couple of pounds – very slowly. I believe this was because overdoing high intensity cardio had hijacked my appetite.

Will I ever run again? Absolutely. I have been running short intervals lately during many of my walks just because it feels good to stretch my legs. And now that spring has finally arrived, the trails and beautiful weather will likely inspire me to run a bit more. SOME high intensity exercise is a good thing, especially when you feel inspired to do it.

Pushing your pace day after day is not motivating, it’s not healthy, and it’s not sustainable. Injury or burnout are inevitable.

Don’t let the expectations or habits of others affect your workout schedule, Friend. We live in a competitive culture and it is natural to see images of fitness models running on the beach and want the body or the energy they have. Unless it’s your full-time job to look like that, it’s just unrealistic. And when it comes to our health, we can only compete with ourselves.

Scripture says that, when we compare ourselves with others, we are not wise. (2 Corinthians 10:12). This applies to all areas of our lives, including our exercise habits. So, perhaps if we ask the question of how God created us to move, we might gain more wisdom than in searching diet and exercise books or our Instagram feed.  It is clear that He designed us to be frequently active – doing mostly light to moderate activity punctuated with bursts of more intense activity. And yet again we see that Grandma had the right idea.

Perhaps we could focus on tiny changes in our habits – parking farther away, adding another vegetable, taking the stairs, adding another loop to our walk, or bumping up the incline one notch.

Let’s be kind to ourselves and our bodies with reasonable expectations and small changes that allow us to become acclimated to a more active lifestyle.

What do you think of the Goldilocks principle?  Have you seen it to be true in your own habits?

2 Comments

  1. Made me feel more relaxed just reading it:-)

  2. It would be fun to start a routine of walking with my family on a regular basis… on the trails in Powhatan, in downtown Richmond, or just in our own neighborhood. Thanks for reminding us about the benefits of a nice walk.

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