A regular walking routine is one of the safest and most accessible exercises, with numerous health benefits no matter your fitness level or age.
“Walking is probably the single best exercise we can do to keep our bodies and brains healthy — just ask my 91-year-old father,” says Margie Clegg, a certified personal trainer who walks every day with her dog, Jax. Committing to a daily brisk walk can help you shed pounds, strengthen your muscles and bones, improve your heart health, boost your mood and even trigger creative thinking.
To reap the most benefits from walking, consider adopting these 10 healthy habits of people who walk every day:
“When Jax and I first started walking, I made it the first thing I did after my morning routine,” says Clegg. To prioritize walking, put it on your calendar for a set block of time every day that you know you can make non-negotiable, whether that’s a walk every morning, during your lunch break or after dinner. Whatever the time, log it and set daily reminders.
Daily walkers make it easy by setting themselves up for success. As you settle in for the evening, use this time as a cue to gather your walking gear and set it out for the next day, suggests Niki Campbell, a certified personal trainer, health coach and owner of the Flourish Group. “Lay out your workout clothes, fill a water bottle and put it in the fridge and make sure you have the right gear ready to go if you’re heading outside, like a coat, hat and reflective vest or flashlight if it’s dark,” she says.
Rather than letting a super-hot or cold and dreary day keep you from sticking with your daily walking routine, dress appropriately and push on. “I walk no matter what because it keeps me going,” says Clegg. “I’ve walked under the umbrella in the rain and I’ve put on thermal underwear in the cold.” What to do: Beat the heat during hot weather months with moisture-wicking clothes, and stay warm in the winter with extra layers like leggings and fleece-lined gloves.
“Step counting is a game changer when you’re starting a walking routine. There’s something about your goal number that makes you want to reach it,” says Clegg. Research shows this is true: Setting a step goal can encourage you to walk more, and even an increase of 1,000 steps a day has been linked with a lower body mass index (BMI) and greater insulin sensitivity (meaning your cells are more responsive to insulin, which helps control your blood sugar and in turn may reduce your risk of developing diseases like Type 2 diabetes), per a study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.
For daily walks to become a habit, they have to feel like something you can stick with from the beginning. That’s where walking plans can help. “I started slow by walking for 10 minutes a day. Then, I built on that and added more time each day,” says Clegg. Begin with a goal you believe you can tackle, like a 10-minute walk every evening. After that’s become a habit for a week or two, level up with a new goal like a 20-minute walk.
Tracking your step count is a great indicator of how active you are, and the more you move, the better, says Clegg. To boost your step count from week to week, use a fitness tracker or an app like MapMyRun to log your day-to-day step count and walking distance.
To stick with your daily walks, find a walking partner or join a walking group. “It’s the ultimate accountability check — you don’t want to let people down,” explains Campbell. You can find your tribe by opening a group text with like-minded friends, searching for a nearby walking group on MeetUp or posting on your neighborhood Facebook page. For an added incentive, end your walks with a trip to the coffee shop or another fun event to get people to commit, suggests Campbell.
Motivate yourself and your friends with weekly and monthly step challenges, says Campbell. Then, when you reach your goal, take time to reward yourself with a new workout top, a healthy lunch out or a self-care activity like an at-home spa night.
One of the simplest ways to make a daily walk a habit is to pair it with something fun. As you walk, listen to motivational podcasts, an audiobook or silence as you take in the beauty around you, says Clegg. Add variety to your walks by finding new places to explore like nearby parks and hiking trails, and trying out new workouts like interval walking, plalking, Nordic walking and rucking.
Daily walkers understand steps don’t have to happen all at once, and one missed walk doesn’t mean you’ve thrown the whole day away. Make it a point to walk more throughout your day by parking farther away from stores, taking the long way around the office, or taking a lap around your house during commercials, suggests Clegg. Over time, your steps add up, and soon enough, you’ll take your daily walking habit for granted.