A step-by-step guide to making a move when you're mostly sedentary.
When I tell my bestie I'm writing a story on how to lose weight by walking, she says, "You put one foot in front of the other." Touché, but it's not that easy for some of us. In fact, you don't realize you live an almost exclusively sedentary existence until you're forced to, say, hike the Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles; that's where I found myself in May, on a long-weekend wellness trip. But this wasn't your typical New Age wellness jaunt—there were no deep-tissue massages, no calming spa music, no cold-pressed juice delivered three times a day. It was back to basics, focusing solely on walking.
It may sound easily doable, but movement is daunting for those of us who aren't in shape. A 2017 Nielsen survey found that more than half of its respondents said they're "proactively" trying to lose weight; the thing is, that doesn't really jibe with working-out habits—only 38 percent said they exercise regularly. In 2011, Statistics Canada found that we're sedentary for 69 percent of our waking hours, even though we should aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each week (but 250 minutes is better).
We obviously know we need to work out. "It plays a vital positive role in overall physical and mental health," says Kelly MacDonald, a certified personal trainer in Halifax. "Regular exercise such as walking releases endorphins in the brain that have a positive impact on mood and energy. Walking also increases cardiovascular efficiency, so if weight loss is your goal, it can really make an impact."
Dr. Shahebina Walji, medical director of the Calgary Weight Management Centre, cites an abundance of scientific evidence that confirms the benefits that moderate-intensity physical activity like brisk walking can provide: "It lowers the risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and various cancers. It has also been shown to improve confidence and lessen fatigue."
I'm after both a physical and mental transformation. With my diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder and depression, my shrink is forever reminding me of the advantages of walking. "You don't need to spend money on a gym membership," she says. (Joke's on her—I've been paying $16 a month and haven't gone since August 2016.) But it's hard to get motivated, and even the very simple act of putting one foot in front of the other can be intimidating. So how can we sedentary folks get going, notice results and actually enjoy walking? Let's see what the experts say.
Set a goal.
Monica Maly, a kinesiology professor at Ontario's University of Waterloo, suggests following the SMART business model, which stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. "It's essential that your goal has a concrete time frame and that it's realistic within your lifestyle," she says. (For example, I will walk for 10 minutes at a brisk pace twice a day, five days a week, for the next four weeks.) "Simply moving closer toward the recommended 150 minutes per week will improve your health."
Make an investment.
You're off the hook when it comes to buying a gym membership, so put some of that saved cash toward comfortable gear appropriate for hitting the road: Some no-brainers include a great pair of walking shoes, a super-supportive sports bra, a water bottle, earphones for tunes (or audiobooks or podcasts) and cool threads that make you feel confident. "This investment will give you the motivation you need to get moving," says MacDonald.
Embrace the 10-minute plan.
I'm a perfectionist. If I can't walk 250 minutes a week, why bother doing it at all? It turns out I need to aim lower. Every expert I spoke with told me to stop seeing the week's exercising in overwhelming four-hour blocks and consider hoofing it a few times a day in 10-minute intervals. Most of us accumulate the recommended time across several bouts throughout the week in durations as short as 10 minutes, says Maly. "Many of my patients take 10-minute walks before work, at midday and/or in the evening. Some use an alarm on their phones to remind them to take a break," says Dr. Walji. Three of those walks a day, five days a week, adds up to the recommended 150 minutes a week.
Don't focus on steps.
Pedometer clips, smart watches and phone apps don't motivate everyone because, honestly, the 10,000 steps a day these devices suggest sounds unattainable. Instead of counting steps, focus on how you feel during your walks, suggests Dr. Walji. "It should feel a little hard, you should develop a light sweat and your breathing will be a bit quicker, but you should be able to carry on a conversation without being out of breath," she says. "If you can sing while walking, your intensity is too light."
This isn't about refusing elevators and taking the stairs (though that's a good plan). Find other ways to get moving: Park farther away from your office; circle the field or ice rink while your kids are at practice; change one meeting each week to a discussion over a stroll; or take a spin around the living room during commercials. If I can get off my rear, so can you.
GEAR TO GET YOU MOVING
Psych yourself up for your walking routine with fresh equipment.
Nola tunic, $69, and leggings, $49, additionelle.com.
S'ip by S'well water bottle, $43, well.ca.
UA Slingflex Rise shoes, $140, underarmour.ca.
Beats by Dre Powerbeats3 Wireless Earphones, $250, apple.ca.