Walking is a healthy habit that’s free and easy to fit into your day. Every step you take burns calories, strengthens your heart, eases joint pain, improves sleep, and boosts your immune system, your mood, and your energy. Walking may even prolong your life. So whether you’re a regular walker or taking baby steps to get there, remember that each step you’re taking adds to your overall wellbeing.
Every step counts—literally!
More Americans are seeing the benefits of walking and beginning to add more steps to their day. If you’re not currently a walker, start thinking of yourself as one! When it comes to creating a healthy habit, behavioral science has a few things figured out.
First of all, it helps to label yourself a walker and begin your new practice after a “fresh start,” such as your birthday, a meaningful life event, the first of the month, or even a Monday. By starting with a blank slate, your motivation to change behavior naturally increases, according to Katy Milkman, author of How to Change.
Secondly, make a plan and try to be specific. Here’s an easy formula to get started:
When [regular event] happens on [specific day] at [specific time], I will [insert healthy goal, such as walk 20 minutes].
After you set your plan, publicly commit to your goal, set visual or smartphone reminders (and take action right when they go off!), and get moving!
Ten Tips to Add Steps to Your Day
While we recommend that you aim to get a daily dose of 10,000 steps (the equivalent of about an hour and a half of walking), you don’t need to do it all at once. Read through these tips on how you can add steps here and there throughout the day, consider how you might apply some of them to your own life, and make a plan for how you can get there.
1. Make it fun! Behavioral science research shows that when you make exercise fun, you’re more likely to make a habit of it. So think zany: Walk like an Egyptian to your mailbox instead of grabbing it from your car window. Line up your family and imitate each other’s walking styles. The more fun the better!
2. Stroll in town. Purposefully pick a parking spot further away from your destination. If you have two or more places to be in the same neighborhood, walk instead of drive to them. Better yet, walk to work or errands if you can.
3. Walk while you wait. Americans spend 37 billion hours waiting in line each year, according to the New York Times. March in place when you wait in line or ask the person behind you to hold your spot while you do a loop. If you’re picking up kids from school or an after-school activity and you get there a few minutes early, turn off your engine and add some steps to your day.
4. Pair walking with indulgence. Behavioral scientists refer to this as “bundling”: take a pleasurable activity, such as listening to your favorite tunes or an audiobook, and indulge in it only when you engage in a healthy habit.
5. Take the stairs. You’ll build muscle and probably get there faster anyway!
6. Walk and talk. Strive for face-to-face communication. Instead of texting a coworker or calling out to a family member in the next room, walk over and talk to them in person.
7. Buddy up. Walk on your lunch break with your coworker and after dinner with your family or neighbor. Start a small walking group among friends. Take your dog on a weekend hike. Phone a friend while you stroll. When you partner social and physical activities, you do a great service for your mental health.
8. Walk farther. If you can’t get in the recommended 10,000 steps every day, don’t despair—just add more steps to another day. It all adds up! Looking for weekend fun? Grab a water bottle, slather on some sunscreen, and explore our beautiful state on foot. Maine by Foot has a great travel guide to hikes you can search by towns, including the areas surrounding all four DFD Russell Medical Center locations. Don’t have time to spare? Pick up your pace! You’ll get more steps in by walking faster.
9. Wander and wonder. Try meditative walking. Also known as kinhin, this practice consists of focusing attention on your movement and the world around you rather than your breath, as in traditional meditation. When you walk, you reap the benefits of relaxation and stress reduction alongside physical activity.
10. Go the long way. Sometimes we pick convenience because it seems like common sense. Challenge some of your usual routines: walk to the bathroom farthest away from you. Take the long way around the kitchen to get what you need. Opt for walking into a store or a bank rather than using the drive-thru. Return the shopping cart all the way to the grocery store instead of the nearest receptacle. When you add steps to every task you ordinarily do, you’ll easily get more exercise into your day.
What are two or three ways you’d suggest to someone who wants to get more steps in?
Check with your provider if you’re looking for more tips and a personalized plan on getting more physically active.