We all know a daily walking habit is well-worth keeping up with for its physical and mental health benefits. You’ve probably heard the advice to schedule your walks in your calendar or set out your sneakers the night before. Maybe you’ve even tried sleeping in your walking clothes, so you have no excuse to skip your morning stroll. But sometimes, despite our best intentions, getting out the door for a walk can feel next to impossible.
To increase motivation when you’re not feeling it, try shifting your mindset with these expert-approved hacks.
Make a bargain with yourself. “Tell yourself you just have to walk for 10 minutes,” suggests Amy Morin, a psychotherapist and host of the Mentally Strong People podcast. “If you don’t want to keep going, you can quit. Most of the time, you’ll choose to keep going. Getting started is usually the hardest part.”
Instead of thinking of walking as something you have to do, shift your language and think of it as a reward. “Instead of ‘I should get out for a walk,’ try ‘I get to go for a walk,’” recommends Karin Cleary, PhD, a licensed psychologist. This works particularly well if you use walking as a way to reward yourself for a productive block of work. “Plan to work for a set amount of time, and then you get to take a break and go for a walk.” Doing so can subsequently help boost your creativity and productivity at work.
“Set a small challenge for yourself each week, like walking 5 minutes more than the day before,” says Kelly Keck, LMHC, a psychotherapist. You can also try adding .25 miles or 1,000 more steps to your day. Another great option: “Challenge your friends to see who can take more daily steps since accountability is a huge motivator,” says Keck. When you start small with achievable wins, you’ll feel more empowered to continue to reach bigger goals.
“It could be a family member, friend or even your dog,” says Ben Reuter, PhD, certified strength and conditioning specialist and exercise physiologist. “This helps hold you accountable and makes it more enjoyable. My accountability partners are two labrador retrievers. Bad weather, when I am most likely to make excuses, is when they thrive on walks.”
“One of the things that gets me out the door for a long walk, especially when I am not in the mood, and I just want to veg on the couch, is to combine it with an activity I really do want to do,” says Jonathan Jordan, a certified personal trainer. “For instance, I’ll use it as an opportunity to talk on the phone with my best friend or mom, or I’ll make the destination a place I love.” That could be your favorite coffee shop or bookstore, for example.
Instead of thinking of your walk as a workout, think of it as moving your body. “Telling yourself to move today seems like less pressure than telling yourself to go for a long walk,” explains Susan Masterson, MPH, PhD, a licensed psychologist. “Just ‘moving’ is something you can build on and doesn’t have the success-failure connotation to it.”
If you continually struggle to get out for a walk, it can help to tack your walk onto another habit you don’t struggle with. “If you’re doing the same thing every day, like eating breakfast, try walking immediately before or immediately after,” suggests Leeann Rybakov, a health coach. “Just pairing it with something you already do will make it more likely that the habit will stick.”
Being reminded of your “why” for walking can make it easier to get up and out. “Create a list of all the reasons why walking is good for you — like it’s good for your heart, and it gives you energy,” says Morin. “Whenever you’re tempted to skip your walk, read the list. It’ll help you roll back all those excuses, and give you the motivation you need to do it.”
READ MORE > 10 WALKING CHALLENGES TO KEEP IT EXCITING
If boredom’s the issue, mix up your walking locations. “Try a new spot every time you go for a walk,” suggests Bianca Grover, an exercise physiologist. “Walking the same trail could get old for some of us. Find a new park or a new neighborhood to keep things interesting.” The changes in terrain (such as hills) also helps work different muscle groups.
Remind yourself what happened the last time you felt like this, but decided to go ahead and take your walk, recommends Evan Lawrence, a certified personal trainer. “How did you feel afterward? You felt great in the end! And you were so glad you did it. You did it before, and you can do it again.”
Sometimes, we take on too many new health habits at once, leaving us feeling paralylzed by all the change. If walking is your main priority, focus just on that. “Tell yourself, ‘all I’m doing is adding a walk. I don’t have to change anything else,’” says Elisabeth Goldberg, a
licensed marriage and family therapist. “Change can be very daunting and can discourage action. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing, especially when you’re hoping to make long-term changes.”
It might sound silly, but having a reward waiting for you at the end of your walk actually takes advantage of a feedback loop built into our brains. The reward doesn’t have to be anything big. “For example I, like many others, enjoy my morning cup coffee,” says Andrew Swasey, a certified personal trainer. “So I use a cue, routine, reward process to reward myself with a cup of coffee after my walk. My cue is to start my coffee maker, my routine is to go for my walk, and my reward is to drink my cup of coffee after getting home from my walk.” Or if you prefer to walk in the evenings, maybe your reward is unwinding with a hot bath.
How you talk to yourself and others about your walking plans can be the difference between sticking to them and not. Try saying things like: “After my coffee, I go for my walk and then get ready for work,” or “I’m going for a walk after dinner,” advises Jennifer Branstetter, a licensed clinical social worker. “This is different from saying, ‘I want to go for a walk later,’ ‘I need to go for a walk,’ or something less concrete. Don’t give your brain the choice, because given the opportunity, your brain will talk you out of it.”
Acts of service can be super motivating. “So often, we are willing to do for others what may be difficult to do for ourselves,” points out Karina Krepp, a personal trainer. “I challenge my clients to find a friend who needs a walk even more than they do. Someone you know who just had hip surgery? Help them with their prescribed walking therapy. A friend calls in emotional distress? Lace up and meet them for a walk around the park.” Lately, Krepp has been spending her morning walk bringing groceries to her local community fridge. Whether you log miles for your favorite charity or are helping out a friend or family member, make your walk part of how you give back.
“We all know walking is recommended and healthy but the rewards go far beyond a mood boost at the end of the walk,” says Grover. “Keep track of your cardio function, your sleep quality, your weight, appetite and muscle tone.” You can use MyFitnessPal to track many of these metrics. As Grover puts it: “Your health is the biggest reward and should be motivation to push you forward.”
To become more active, try setting a simple goal to increase (and track) your daily steps. Go to “Plans” in the MyFitnessPal app and choose a 28-day step plan to learn tips to boost your activity.