“My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the heck she is.” — Ellen DeGeneres
Bzzzzzzt. There it goes again. The only new tech gadget I bought in the past 3 years. A fitness tracker. What my Garmin Vívosmart HR tries to tell me with its soft, yet definite vibration is that it’s time to get off my butt and move.
This recurring reminder to not sit still for extended periods of time was one of the two primary reasons why I bought it. The other was that it constantly exposes me to the number of steps I’ve already taken that day. It’s the perfect nagging granny equivalent of fitness:
“Have you taken your 10,000 steps yet, boy?”
For me, the “alright, alright, I’ll do it” response kicked in often enough, because as of June 2017, I’ve averaged 10,000 steps a day for the past year.
That’s a lot of steps. I think it warrants stopping for a second, turning around and looking back. Here are seven lessons I learned from a year of walking.
1. Numbers are arbitrary.
“99 percent of all statistics only tell 49 percent of the story.” — Ron DeLegge II
10,000 steps is the number that’s advertised everywhere, mostly because it’s a nice, round number. It doesn’t have to be the same for you. You could shoot for 9,000, 11,000, 7,000 or 15,000.
Maybe your legs are short. Or you’re a runner. Maybe you have knee problems.
This habit isn’t about hitting some arbitrary goal. It’s about learning to love moving more.
2. Walking is where people waste a lot of time.
“It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much.” — Seneca
Then again, numbers do matter in some cases. Like this one.
As I would have expected of a repetitive task, I automatically walked faster the more I walked. Not so much on my deliberate walks, but when walking was about getting from A to B. I couldn’t help but notice:
People are slooooooooow.
They drag their feet, stop and stare randomly and end up in front of closing subway car doors. Sigh.
There are times when walking needs to be fun and times when it needs to be efficient. Knowing the difference could save you 15 minutes a day, equals two 40-hour work weeks per year, equals one full year over an 80-year life.
So know the difference.
3. Walking changes how you sit.
“No matter how slow you go, you are still lapping everybody on the couch.” — Anonymous
Here’s a crazy fact:
You sit more than you sleep. On average, people sit for 9.3 hours a day, while sleeping only for 7.7. No wonder they say sitting is the new smoking.
Once my tracker had annoyed me to get up often enough, I started noticing myself. I became more uncomfortable with sitting. That’s a good thing.
As a writer, I sometimes still sit 2+ hours in one go. When you’re in the zone, you’re in the zone. But I shift around in my seat a lot more. I change position. Move to the edge. Lean back. Sit properly again.
When sitting is inevitable, pretend you can’t sit still and it’ll take less of a toll.
4. Walking keeps you healthy.
“Healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have.” — Winston S. Churchill
Notice I didn’t say fit. But healthy. I know a proper health regimen includes real exercise, but it’s only when you give that up that you realize how valuable walking really is.
I stopped swimming when I started school because there’s so much work and so far, walking has kept me healthy through even the most stressful periods.
It’s not a lifestyle I’d want to keep forever, but it’s good to know that while I can’t outrun a runner, I can still outrun a lot of people when I need to.
Plus, I’m sure the extra vitamin D from all the sun helps.
5. Sometimes, it’s better to be average.
“I don’t think there’s too much normal out there anymore. Though there’s still plenty of average to go around.” — John David Anderson
10,000 steps are about 5 miles, or 8 km, give or take. Walked every day this is serious exercise — just not in a time frame that makes you sweat like crazy.
Your legs will want rest. Let them rest. It’s also easier to walk more on a day that’s already high in steps than forcing yourself out of bed Sunday morning.
Dancing really helps. I rarely go clubbing, but if I do, I always add an extra 8–10k.
For once, shoot for average and use the buffer you build wholeheartedly to rest. Enjoy those days, they’re precious too.
6. Walking = Thinking.
“All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” — Friedrich Nietzsche
A lot of my best ideas of the past year came to me while walking. New revenue streams. Business obstacle breakthroughs. Advice for friends. Advice for myself.
I’ve had hour long phone conversations, sent endless voice messages, listened to densely packed podcasts.
To walk is to think. And we all need to make more time for thinking.
7. Walking = Living.
“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” — J.K. Rowling
I’m a music junkie. I often listen to music while walking. Whenever I don’t, I remember walking is the ultimate mindfulness practice. I just walk and watch the world.
The people around me. The ways I could go. The rooftops of the buildings I pass. Walking is one of the most fundamental experiences of being human.
Don’t rob yourself of that experience.
If you feel inspired now, the best thing you can do is to take one more step than you took yesterday.
Get an activity tracker like mine. Or don’t. Use your phone. Count the steps in your head. Think. Listen to music. Look out for rooftops.
As long as you keep walking, you keep working on yourself.
That’s what we’re here for. Oh, and to find Ellen DeGeneres’s grandma, of course.