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I Walked for 30 Minutes Every Day For A Year. Here’s What Happened.

In November 2022, I decided that I needed to get out of the house and move my body more consistently. I didn’t feel good and my increasingly sedentary lifestyle was getting to me, but none of my efforts to get in shape had stuck.

You see, I’m a serial starter of programs.

I love an 8-week challenge and start them all with the best of intentions only to abandon them by the third week. 

Time and time again, I’d start a new fitness class or program, quit, go back to not exercising, and then repeat. 

Since the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, I decided to switch it up. 

I was going to focus on building a foundation for daily fitness. But instead of diving into another program, I was going to keep it simple. 

I was going to walk. 

Close up of the legs and feet of a woman going for a daily walk
benefits of walking every day

Why Walking?

Initially I chose walking because I needed to get outdoors and that was the easiest way to do it. 

I work from home. 

Some days, I feel tethered to a computer screen for hours on end. This lifestyle was negatively impacting my mood, cognitive function, and waistline. 

I also needed something low impact. In the past, I tried completing a couch to 5K program. I’m a former runner after all. It should be easy for me, right? 

My knees said otherwise.  

Jogging and running were not going to motivate me to get out of bed every morning.

Third, I wanted some alone time. An activity I could do to get outside, move my body, and listen to audio books or podcasts. Or just think. 

Walking ticked all those boxes. 

The Benefits of Walking That Helped Me The Most

If I’m being honest, I started walking every day as a means to an end. I was trying to build a fitness habit – to train my body to wake up at a certain hour, put on workout clothes, and move. 

Eventually, I’d use the routine to transition into more “serious” types of exercise. 

But after a few weeks something transformative happened. 

I started looking forward to waking up. If I didn’t do my morning walk first thing, I felt discombobulated. I was more sluggish, less ready for the day, and tired. 

And if I opted for the gym first thing and waited to talk later, I didn’t like that either.

It turns out that in addition to being a low impact, low stress way to get exercise, there are a ton of benefits to walking.

Here are the biggest ones that I experienced, but if you want to dive deeper on the topic, this video is helpful:

1. I lost weight.

When I started walking every day, I was about 15-20 pounds heavier than I wanted to be. I didn’t expect to lose much weight just by walking, but there was a downstream effect that helped me shed about 10 pounds. 

A few benefits of walking are worth mentioning here. As it turns out, walking:

  • Aids in weight loss or maintenance by burning around 100-200 calories per 30-minute session, depending on speed and weight. (It’s not CrossFit, but it’s something.)
  • Increases metabolism and builds muscle to boost calorie burn.
  • Helps reduce body fat, especially around the abdomen.

For me, it wasn’t just the physical benefits of walking that accounted for my weight loss (although it did help), but the mental and emotional benefits that helped me steer clear of othe rbad habits as well.  

In addition to more energy, I was actually less hungry. 

I wasn’t reaching for a snack every couple of hours and felt fuller longer. This can likely be attributed to steadier blood sugar levels, which walking has also been shown to promote. 

Before and after of the author showing the results of walking daily
I don’t take a lot of full body photos, but you get the point.

2. My mental health and focus improved. 

Once I started walking consistently, I realized just how bad my mental health had been prior to that. 

I’ve always struggled with anxiety and depression, but I’d become so accustomed to the lethargy and stress that I no longer saw it as abnormal. 

It was just how I was.

After a month or two of daily walking, I started to perk up. I was less forgetful and in a lighter mood at the start of my work day. 

Surprisingly (or maybe not), I could focus better. I was reaching for my phone less to find a mental escape from the task at hand. 

After about six months, I was able to adjust and lower the dosage of my anxiety medication (with my doctor’s approval, of course). 

I just felt better. Not perfect. But better. 

This is because walking:

  • Releases endorphins that enhance mood and reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.
  • Helps us get exposure to sunlight, which boosts vitamin D production, which regulates mood. 
  • Provides a break from daily stressors and that aforementioned “me time”.

One study found that people who walked briskly for one hour three times a week showed the decision-making areas of their brains worked more efficiently than a control group that attended educational seminars. 

This has been my experience as well. I’m much more clear-headed, organized, and in control of my day. 

3. I had way more energy throughout the day. 

On the days when I was unable to start my morning with a walk, I noticed a huge difference. 

Trying to squeeze steps in throughout the day helped, but the entire morning would be noticeably different if I didn’t get out there and hit the pavement. 

So how does daily walking improve energy? There are a few ways. 

Walking:

  • Increases Oxygen Flow: It increases your heart rate and breathing, which boosts the oxygen flow to your muscles and organs, improving their function and efficiency. This can help you feel more energized.
  • Releases of Endorphins: Physical activity like walking triggers the release of endorphins which act as natural painkillers and mood elevators. 
  • Improves Circulation: It improves blood circulation, which helps maintain your energy levels throughout the day.

On mornings when I walked, I was raring to go. 

I could get myself and my child ready for the day more efficiently and stay upbeat instead of racing both of us through our routines and out the door, perpetually ten minutes behind schedule. 

When I got home from school drop-off, I was ready to get to work. 

That morning walk literally fueled my day past lunch. The midafternoon was another story. The slump would and does hit me, but I found a way to deal with that. 

4. I became more…uh…regular. 

In addition to living a somewhat lethargic, sedentary life, my digestive health wasn’t great. I was snacking a lot and slamming copious amounts of Diet Coke – oscillating between wired and tired. 

I wrestled with IBS symptoms, bloating, and a general sense of “blah.” 

After a few weeks of daily walking, I noticed that my digestive symptoms improved. I had less bloating and was “going” more regularly, which added to feeling lighter and more energetic. 

5. I created a fitness habit that stuck. 

My goal when I started walking was to form an exercise habit, and it worked. 

I started slowly. I set my alarm for 20 minutes earlier and began with 15 minute walks and then built my way up to 30 minutes. 

Physically, I was more than capable of walking 30 minutes. But I needed to form the habit. I needed to get used to waking up earlier and starting my day with movement instead of zombie walking to the shower first thing. 

Once the habit stuck, getting up earlier became second nature to me. I started to feel off if I didn’t get up and go for a walk.  

My routine was firmly established and became a foundation for more fitness. 

Eventually, I added weight lifting into my routine a few days a week and it was easy to do because I literally walked past the gym on my way home. I could pop in, do a few circuits, and then get on with my day.

A man going for a walk along the lake in Chicago

6. I started to crave physical activity. 

After a few months of daily walking, I hit the jackpot. I had experienced so many noticeable benefits that I started to crave physical activity as a way to deal with things like:

  • Feeling bored or distracted
  • Low mood and depression
  • Tightness in my body from sitting too long
  • Feeling tired and unmotivated

In the past I used extremely unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with stress (namely alcohol), but even in my early sobriety days, I tended to self-medicate with bad food or checking out with a Netflix series. 

Daily walking rewired my brain to crave better choices. 

If I was feeling tense from leaning over my keyboard too much, I felt like I needed a short yoga session to feel better. So I’d take a break and do that. 

If I was sluggish, instead of slamming another can of Diet Coke, I’d put my shoes on and go for a quick ten minute walk to shake the cobwebs off. 

I started doing push-ups and squats in between meetings. My body really disliked sitting still all day. It probably always had, but now I was listening and responding. 

Why hadn’t I before? 

I didn’t know what my body needed, so I tried to assuage the restlessness by getting a snack or checking my phone. 

Walking every day gave me a point of reference. “This is how my body feels when I don’t move every day. This is how it feels when I do.” 

In fact, I felt so much better that I purchased a walking pad and a new adjustable stand-up desk to get me through my daily 2 pm crash. (I got this walking pad from DeerRun off of Amazon.)

As soon as I catch myself re-reading the same paragraphs or reaching for my phone to avoid doing work, I turn it on, start walking, and immediately feel my brain wake up. 

7. I slept better.

Falling asleep has never been a problem for me. Staying asleep, on the other hand? It was not unusual for me to get up 3-5 times per night to go to the bathroom. 

I had a racing mind and an irritated bladder from the multiple cans of Diet Coke to thank for that. 

Once I started walking regularly, I began eating better and drinking less caffeine to get through the day. 

The end result? I got up less during the night and felt more refreshed in the mornings. 

Research shows that regular walking has a number of benefits for sleep. It can:

Insomnia was not a major challenge for me, but getting quality sleep was. I would give myself 8 hours to sleep and still managed to wake up feeling like I hadn’t slept a wink. Walking helped fix that problem. 

Related: 10 Sleep Hygiene Tips For Better Quality Sleep

8. I got sick less often.

Since I started walking regularly and prioritizing movement, I’ve gotten sick less often. 

Even as my child brought home all the germs from daycare, I managed to stay free of the colds, flu, and strep throat that occasionally entered our home. 

Science can back me up on this one, too. Regular walking at a moderate to brisk pace has been shown to:

This was one of the more unexpected benefits for me, but I’m grateful for it.  

How To Start A Daily Walking Habit

At this point, you may be thinking, “Okay if I can improve all of these things just by walking every day, I’m in!”

Great! Here’s how I’d recommend starting, especially if fitness is not a part of your daily life.  

If you want to make walking part of your daily routine, start small and make a plan you can stick to. 

The habits that stick for me are the ones I do every day. But jumping into 30+ minutes of daily walking can be hard in the beginning, especially if you have little ones at home and/or are running on a tight schedule. 

That’s why I started by walking just 15 minutes every day in the morning before my usual wake up time. I was physically capable of more, but I had to form the habit. 

I wanted my days to look like this: 

Wake up → put on clothes and shoes → leave house → walk. 

Once that routine became second nature, I got up earlier and earlier each week until I reached my goal of 30-40 minutes of walking in the morning. 

If it rained, I’d make alternative plans like using the treadmill at the gym where I live or hop on the walking pad. 

I tracked my steps with my Apple watch and became a little obsessed with closing my rings and reaching my step goal.

The key is to form the habit and then build on it until you reach your goal. 

And that’s really all there is to it!

Creating a Daily Fitness Habit Doesn’t Have To Hard

If I had known that walking alone could improve my quality of life this much, I’d have prioritized it sooner.

Like many people, I got it in my head that I have to go hard in the gym to make a noticeable difference.That somehow it didn’t “count” unless I was sucking air and ready to collapse from exhaustion at the end of a workout. 

It’s just not true. 

Movement is good for your body. Unless you live in a walkable city like New York, chances are you don’t get enough of it. Movement does not have to be high-intensity to count.

All you need is a pair of decent shoes and a commitment to showing up every day. 

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