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Today we’re going to dive deep into how walking every day has truly changed my life and the way I think about exercise/fitness, and most importantly – how I slowly improved my distance and consistency over time without dreading it or giving up!

So many of you have asked about my walks over the past few months, since I’ve been sharing my journey each morning on Instagram stories:

  • why I rave about the benefits of such a simple activity
  • if JUST walking has really made that much of a difference?
  • how I worked myself up to my current distance
  • and how I made it a true habit that is second nature vs requiring willpower!

In this post, I hope to answer these questions and more, starting with a full recap of what my journey has looked like.

My timeline: from the beginning

November 2020: Even though I knew better, I was the most sedentary I’ve been in a long time, feeling paralyzed in my body by seasonal affective disorder and a period of intense family and work issues. The last thing I wanted to do was move physically because I felt so low about myself, but I knew that was exactly the solution I needed to get back into my body and face the stressors in my life with a new perspective and healthier brain chemistry.

December 2020: I slowly but surely began moving a little more each day until I actually started to like it rather than resist it – however I didn’t love it just yet, so I didn’t push too hard. Started to feel like maybe I could keep this promise to myself.

January 2021: I told myself that if I could get out and walk every day in snow and 20 degree weather, I could do anything. I bargained with myself that harsh weather would make me tougher and that life’s problems wouldn’t feel so heavy. It actually worked! I started reading literature on the benefits of walking for insulin resistance, cognitive decline, hormone health, and more to keep myself motivated. Broke my walks up into 3 x 10-15 mins per day to make it more like a game.

February 2021: was my breakthrough month. I made a promise to only increase my distance when it felt like a challenge not a chore, and suddenly the daily walks weren’t a chore at all… I wasn’t dragging myself out of bed in the morning because I was so used to them that they became second nature and fun. I started feeling more independent, less confined to my house or trapped in my head. I had an outlet, a new relationship with myself. I realized I was ‘taking myself out’ for the ‘fun activity’ I always craved as a lonely only child – being my own friend. I started walking more steps than ever and saw both my active and resting heart rate go down, meaning my heart and cardiovascular system as a whole were getting healthier. I noticed that at around the 3.5-4 mile mark, my mood felt a huge boost. I realized headphones, music and movement can make my mind feel sunny even just for an hour, in the coldest of weather. My clothes started fitting better, my eyes looked less sad.

March 2021: At this point, 10-20k daily steps was a piece of cake. I craved it. It was me against me. I wanted more. I moved onto hills to add more resistance for my leg muscles. Less steps, but way more challenging and as the month went on I was less and less out of breath up the hills. I realized I was literally making my organs stronger.

April 2021: Month 5 I started running. I didn’t plan to, but my body was literally bursting with energy and it wanted to be free. I felt like a kid. At first, I ran for as long as I could at the start of my walk, which wasn’t much… maybe .4 or .5 miles before I had to stop and catch my breath. Slowly but surely I lasted a little longer each day, until I could finally run a full mile without stopping. Sometimes I walked back home, sometimes I jogged (with breaks) back home. I was taking less steps, but working harder because that distance was spent running and building my cardiovascular fitness. I had to pull back a bit here, because my lower back back pain that I’ve had for a while due to excessive sitting and poor core/back strength was greatly intensified by the running. I started physical therapy for my back and started learning how to run and walk with proper form and posture, and began adding in daily pilates-style core exercises which have helped a ton!

So, where am I now?

May, June, July and Beyond: Walking is now a way of life for me. I add hills on days when I’m short on time and just want to sweat, or I walk 4 miles on flat ground in one shot on others just to clear my head. Sometimes I break my walks up into 2-3 throughout the day to get a break from the computer. Sometimes I run, but only when my cup of energy is overflowing and I’m not dipping into stress hormones in order to get myself pumped up. I have to be feeling super grounded and strong, not flighty; otherwise I can feel burnt out afterwards.

I do physical therapy (light pilates and strengthening for my back) 1-2x per week to avoid back pain, and online workout videos 1-2x per week to add in some sculpting and toning. But no matter what, I get outside even if it’s just for 10 minutes to remember that I’m human and there’s a world out there that’s not just my head. I’m actually feeling excited for the winter months ahead where I get to challenge my body to acclimate to the cold, harsh weather outside as I walk each morning. I used to avoid the cold weather like the plague because I felt so sensitive to the cold, always needing a sweater when everyone else was comfortable. This year, as the seasons are beginning to change, I feel warmer than ever, and I attribute that to the cold exposure I gave my body (which I feel ultimately strengthened my ability to be flexible and strong amidst a changing climate). Cold walks are quickly becoming my favorite adaptogen – just make sure to bundle up and cover those kidneys 😉

My motivation: why I keep going

For me, walking is one of the greatest, surefire ways to protect my brain and cognition as I age.

Protecting our brains is not something to take lightly. It’s never too late to start, and it’s not something we can put off until later or if/when things already begin to decline. Protecting your brain (or not) is something that’s happening right now, each and every day, with each and every tiny habit. And walking is perhaps the single most accessible habit we have!

Walking protects your brain

I want to motivate you because I am deeply passionate about what this extremely simple movement has done for my brain, body and mood. Most importantly, I want to encourage you to engage in a type of movement you can actually stick to and enjoy. Walking is exactly that! It’s the most human thing we can do; it makes our brains less averse to fear and more likely to choose courage, and it protects our previous cognition and autonomy as we ate.

Brain health in our older years, begins in our 20s and 30s. Adopting a consistent exercise or even ‘movement’ regimen at this crucial time in our lives can help reduce our chances of cognitive decline by up to 90% compared to those who don’t, so don’t miss the opportunity to make something so simple a part of your daily life. Walking puts the power back in your hands, and it doesn’t have to be complicated.

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