The benefits of walking are numerous and entirely obvious to those who frequently partake in this activity. Walking not only functions as the easiest exercise available, it enlivens the mind and spirit as well. The simple act of taking a walk every day could be a cornerstone habit upon which to improve your life in the coming year.
For those looking to take more strolls, I present 20 “rules” for making the most of them. Heed them, ignore them, mix and match ‘em. Doesn’t much matter to me; they’re simply the helpful hints I’ve developed in regards to my own walking practice.
1. Walk frequently. Walks can be long, but also just a few minutes in length. There’s no reason then that you can’t fit one in every single day.
2. Walk outdoors. The fresh air, the more natural landscape, and the seasons’ changing sights, sounds, and smells stimulate the senses and refresh the mind in a way indoor walking can’t come close to replicating. Save treadmill walking for the direst circumstances and environmental conditions; because for the most part you should:
3. Ignore the weather. While a stroll on a beautiful day is idyllic, there’s also a certain magical enjoyment to bipedal movement in less-than-perfect conditions, be it a cold snap, a hot streak, or an unexpected rain shower. As the classic saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.
4. Wear comfortable shoes. Part of the right clothing in all conditions is the right footwear. Nothing ruins a walk faster than sore feet or raw blisters.
5. Also wool socks. See above.
6. Leave your phone at home. Be entirely unreachable for a short stretch. If you can always be found, can you ever get lost?
7. Even if you take your phone, opt out of headphones. Give your brain the space to be without audio input for a bit. I, for one, struggle greatly with this. Given my work as a podcast producer, I listen to a lot of different shows and interviews for ideas, so it feels like I should always be listening to something. That’s a lie. I’m working on pushing that lie out of my head. You should too. Practice being with your own thoughts and fully taking in the world around you.
8. Ignore #7 on occasion. If there’s work-related audio in need of review or a riveting podcast in my queue, I won’t hesitate to use my walk as an opportunity to listen to it. Music is acceptable on occasion too; sometimes listening to a soul-stirring melody while walking through nature or even just your neighborhood is exactly what a person needs. Just don’t fill your ears with human-created stimuli all the time.
9. Walk a regular route when you’re feeling stuck. I have a 3.2-mile loop that I take at least twice a week, and sometimes more. Having a set route frees your brain from having to choose where to go and puts your walking on autopilot mode, allowing you to think more deeply and solve problems.
10. Walk a novel route when you’re feeling restless. Inject some novelty into your life by heading in a different direction or exploring a brand new path. Get yourself lost, even.
11. Bring a coffee. (Or grab one from a cafe.) I’ve noticed that when I have a coffee in hand, I slow down. Quite often, that’s a good thing. Use each intermittent sip as a chance to recenter your thoughts and relish the opportunity to be outdoors in a world of climate-controlled sitting.
12. Embrace your inner child. Is the sidewalk carpeted with oh-so-crunchy leaves? Stomp through ‘em. (I love hearing that crackle.) Do small puddles dot the trail you’re on? Don your waterproof boots before you head out, and walk right through; or jump in ‘em for crying out loud! Stoop down and check out the cool bug you’re crossing paths with. Don’t worry about looking foolish; nobody is having as much fun as you.
13. Don’t forget sunglasses. (Unless it’s raining.) (Or snowing.)
14. Walk with a companion. Even Thoreau, who said he’d “never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude,” took daily walks with others. In the comfort of looking out at the world side-by-side, conversation can really flow. Engage in ideas with a friend. Catch up with your spouse.
15. Bring the family along. Children make for excellent walking companions as well. Observing the world together brings up great talking points that you don’t get in a car (or at home while watching TV on the couch).
16. Also learn to embrace the solitary walk. Sometimes you need time alone too. If you’re angry or sad or need a spark of creativity, hit the pavement (or trail) solo.
17. Get your heart rate up (at least some of the time). If you don’t enjoy the usual types of cardio exercise, take up speedwalking. It’s easier than you think to get your blood pumping (but not so much that you can’t hear yourself think anymore). Rucking also works.
18. Bring a pocket notebook. If walking without headphones (and even with, actually), I can pretty much guarantee you’re going to think of something you want to write down. When a dormant to-do or a spark of genius arises, you should be ready to record it. And you’ll need a notebook for that. Since you left your phone at home.
19. Don’t (constantly) track your data. Walk fast enough to get your blood flowing and your breath quickening. You don’t need to know your speed or your cadence or your calories burned. Save that for your runs or other dedicated workouts.
20. Long or short, fast or slow, just walk.