If you really want walking to become part of your regular routine, you need to make it enjoyable. “I know very few people who say, ‘Boy, I really hate this activity, but I’m going to do it because I know it’s healthy for me,’” says exercise physiology expert David Bassett PhD. The key is to reframe your thinking. Here are 7 ways to get into mindset to really reap walking’s stress-reducing effects:
1. Scout out special locations.
Maybe the suburb next to yours has a particularly beautiful park or walking track. Or perhaps there’s a bushland nearby that you’d like to hike. Set aside one day a week for a walk somewhere new and plan your destination ahead of time so you’ll have something to look forward to on the other days.
2. Look for happiness.
Think of things that literally represent happiness (like hearts, smiley faces, or flowers) and see how many you can spot as you walk. Trainer Betsy Magato likes to search for hearts in foot path cracks. “When you have that joyful feeling, you want to go back and do it again,” Magato says. “It’s a really positive loop you get yourself in.”
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3. Craft a motivational “value” playlist.
“Values are different from goals in that they are not checked off of a list, but rather they represent how you want to live your life. Ideally, your goals should link to your values for maximum motivation, so you have strong reasons for committing to them,” explains neuropsychologist Judy Ho PhD. “There are thousands of values, and some examples are integrity, adventure, and knowledge. I like to pick songs I think represent my top values, and then I put them into a playlist. I can listen to that while I’m cleaning or walking or doing whatever, just to remind myself of my top values. It keeps you engaged and reminds you why you’re doing these things and committing to these goals.”
4. Find a walking companion.
If you look around at other folks who are walking, Bassett says you’ll probably notice that people tend to walk with other people or pets and if they’re alone, they usually wear headphones. “You're probably going to get bored if you just go out the door by yourself and walk, but if you walk with a friend or walk listening to music or walk with a pet, those are things that can make it more enjoyable,” he explains. In fact, to push himself outside, Bassett made a pact to take his neighbour’s dog on a daily walk. That way, they both get the exercise they need, and he’s able to save his neighbour some time.
5. Get help from a pro.
If you can’t find a buddy, download the Charge Running app. It recently launched a walking program called MOVE in which a live coach plays music and talks to you through your headphones while you get your steps in. There are two free walking classes every day and you can join in no matter where you are. You can also message other participants right in the app for extra support.
6. Think of your walk as a chance to reset.
“Walking is a great time to do something that can help you calm your senses and re-engage or reset after a stressful morning or a stressful day,” says Ho. “You’re getting blood circulating and it sometimes helps people to think more clearly and solve problems better.” To amp up the effects, try one of Ho’s favorite breathing exercises while you walk: Imagine there is a box in front of your face and use your finger to trace the border: Breathe in as your finger goes up one side, hold your breath as it goes across the top, exhale as your finger moves down the other side, and hold again as it continues across the bottom to close out the rectangle. “Repeat that five to ten times,” suggests Ho. “It’s so visceral and tracing the box really helps to even out your breathing.”
7. Walk with a purpose.
For some people, an immediate goal works best—like walking to work or walking to do errands. For others, a more abstract, long-term goal (like signing up for a virtual 10k or an in-person race that raises money for a charity) will do the trick. Joining an organised walk allows you to connect with other people who are working toward the same goal and gives you reason to keep stepping even on the days you don’t feel like lacing up your sneakers.
This article originally appeared in the October 2021 issue of Prevention.