“My deep belief is that with more women living happy, healthy, long lives,
we become a force that changes the world.”
– Laura Boulay, One Million Women Walking
Exercise is good for you. It’s good for your bones, your heart, your muscles and mood. This is not exactly a controversial or surprising piece of information, yet many of us find it difficult to fit regular exercise into our busy days.
We get it: with traffic, parking, changing, showering, it can take a chunk out of your day to hit the gym or pool or get to yoga or spin class. That’s why we’re devoting an entire blog to that simplest and (usually) most accessible of exercises – walking.
A 30-minute walk at least 5 days a week can yield enormous benefits, as Laura Boulay, founder of One Million Women Walking can attest. Team genneve connected with Laura to talk about how women can incorporate walking into their daily routine and why it may be one of the best decisions they’ll make for their health and well being.
Perhaps a better question would be: Why not walk? We have this notion, Laura says, that exercise has to be painful and punishing to be good for you. In fact, walking may provide the perfect answer to one of our stickiest problems: being too sedentary for too much of the day.
Extended, uninterrupted sitting is really bad for us. Our metabolism slows when we sit too much; sitting is associated with brain changes that may be precursors to cognitive decline; sitting increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, even depression and cancer.
How we typically exercise may not help. While going for a run or getting in a workout at the gym after work is great, an hour of vigor once a day doesn’t offset the risks of being too sedentary the other 23 hours a day.
Walking, because it’s easy to do in small amounts, could be the perfect remedy. “If you get up every 30 minutes and walk for five minutes, just go to the bathroom or refill your water bottle, you’ve reset your metabolism,” Laura says. (But go ahead and sit in the bathroom, since hovering isn’t good for you either.) You don’t need a gym or special gear besides good walking shoes, Laura reminds us, and you likely won’t need a shower after a brisk 5-minute reset.
How to make walking a regular part of my day?
A big question that Laura and her organization take on is, “How can we incorporate this into our day, right now?” Laura asks. “We have to make it consumable for busy women.” The best way to tackle making walking a regular (and best of all, frequent) part of your day, says Laura, is to look at the barriers that keep you from it.
So what holds us back?
- Time. Clearly the more time we’re able to give, the more results we’ll see, but even moving just when you can find time to move has advantages. So, walk while you’re talking on the phone. Walk as you brush your teeth (there’s no shame in using a washcloth as a bib). Sweep more. Park farther from the store or your workplace. Get off the bus a stop early or get on a stop farther on. Still think you need to be at your desk, getting work done? Laura points to a study by Stanford researchers showing that “A person’s creative output increased by an average of 60 percent when walking.” Walking may help you do your job better. Still think you don’t have time?
- Route. “We’re so overscheduled,” Laura says, “that keeping it simple is important. If you have a go-to route that you don’t have to think about, that’s great. Find a place and a path that make you feel good, then walk it until it feels like home. You know it, you got it, it fits your life, you feel safe and know how long it takes, and that makes it easier to get out the door.”
- Gear. You don’t need a lot of fancy equipment to walk – that’s one of the best things about it! Do invest in a decent pair of shoes, if you can. “Business appropriate” shoes aren’t necessarily good for our feet, posture, or pelvic floor, so visit a reputable running or walking store and get some expert advice on the shoe that’s right for your purposes, your goals, and your gait. A few good pairs of tech socks can help too, if budget allows.
- Weather. Bad weather can be a huge deterrent to getting those 30 minutes of walking a day. If you’re loathe to purchase expensive cold- or wet-weather gear, or if it’s just too darn hot to be outside moving around in the middle of the day, the stairs are a great way to boost fitness. As we all know, stairs are much more demanding than walking on a flat sidewalk (or even a hill), so you may want to break up your 30 minutes into smaller increments. Hallways count too, and you might find it easier to get a buddy to join you.
- Safety. Not everyone has the luxury of a safe space to walk, particularly if heading out alone. Certainly finding ways to get your steps in indoors is one fix, but walking with a group might be an even better solution. Your company’s HR department might have a wellness program for those who exercise, so ask if they can hook you up with another walker or two to provide safety in numbers. (Plus, your org may offer bonuses in the form of money or reductions to insurance premiums for those who meet fitness goals, so a quick chat with HR may be in order anyway.)
- Motivation. Of all the barriers, motivation may be the toughest nut to crack. How do we get motivated, and even tougher, how do we stay that way, day after day? First, set reasonable expectations for success. If “perfect” is your only definition of success – eg. 30 vigorous minutes every day of the week – you may be setting yourself up to fail. Second, find walking buddies. Knowing your buddy is waiting in the rain for you to get your steps in could be the push you need to face the weather. “Find an accountability partner,” Laura says. “You don’t even need to be in the same city. Text each other in the morning what your intentions are, then send each other a picture at the end of the day. Keep it gentle. Walk for each other. If your friend said her doctor said she had to walk or she’d be in trouble with her health, would you walk for her? Every single woman I’ve asked has said yes. Caring for others is our superpower! So find someone to walk for if you won’t walk for yourself.”
According to a study from Saarland University in Germany, 25 minutes of brisk walking a day could add as much as seven years to your life. Seven. Years. Regular exercise could potentially repair old, decaying DNA, putting aging on pause. So we’re talking seven good years, seven years of more vigor and better health.
Still need some help to get going and stay in motion? Check out Laura’s “Move More” program designed especially to help busy women overcome their barriers to walking. And join genneve’s closed Facebook group, Midlife & Menopause Solutions, for support, advice, and a whole lot of women to walk for.