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As a CrossFit coach and athlete, I can find it difficult to go slow. Most of my workouts have some sort of time element to them. I’m trying to go as fast as I can, beat the clock, and do more work. Even if you don’t do CrossFit, you may feel the daily pressure to do more and do it faster. But recently, I’ve come to appreciate the joy of slowing down.
My husband and I have started walking about three miles every day — for no reason at all. It’s not a workout. We’re not going anywhere. We just go out and walk for the enjoyment. I know, it sounds so old fashioned.
I’m not exactly sure how we got started with the habit. The first time I asked him to take a walk with me he nervously asked if I was going to ask him for a divorce. (That’s since become our running joke.) Now, we both look forward to the walk and miss it when we don’t get out.
It’s also helped reshape my idea of “fitness” with a new appreciation for low-level, steady state movement. Being able to do lots of work quickly is a great measure of fitness, but so is being able to move yourself a long distance without the aid of any modern conveniences.
We’ve come to rely on other modes of transportation so heavily that the physical and mental benefits of walking may not be as obvious as they once were. So here are just a few.
1. You’ll Build Strong Feet
Especially if you are barefoot or wearing minimalist shoes and walking on uneven, i.e. natural, surfaces. Just like we rely on modern transportation to take us where we need to go, we also rely on modern footwear to protect our feet (and declare our fashion sense).
Kick off those thick, cushy-soled shoes and let your feet work a little harder. Start out with short distances, going a little longer as your feet get stronger. Your feet bear all your weight when you are standing. Make them strong.
2. You’ll Burn More Calories
I’m still a believer in strength training and high-intensity training as the most effective means of achieving fitness, but as an adjunct to those things, you can’t beat a nice slow recovery walk. Don’t make this the reason you walk, though, or you run the risk of turning your nice, relaxing stroll into a speed walk — head down, arms swinging, teeth gritted. Save that for the gym (or not). In fact, forget I even mentioned burning calories. It happens and it’s a good thing. Now let’s move on.
3. You’ll Resist a Sedentary Lifestyle
It’s great that you work out for an hour, five times a week. But what are you doing the rest of the time? If you are like most of us, the bulk of your day is spent sitting — behind a computer, behind a steering wheel, behind a dinner table. That one hour of exercise is not enough to counteract all those hours of sitting.
Depending on which expert you listen to, a sedentary lifestyle can be defined as sitting for anywhere from two to six hours a day. It’s really easy to fall within that time range. Along with mobility, adding in more walking is one of the best ways to mitigate the dangers of so much sitting. Several studies have linked excessive sitting to conditions from obesity to heart disease, diabetes to depression, and many more.
4. You’ll Boost Your Creativity and Problem Solving
Walking not only makes your feet stronger, but it can make your brain stronger, too. Think about it. Have you ever had to make a difficult phone call? Did you sit behind your desk or did you stand up and walk around as you worked through the issue? There’s a reason so many great thinkers, from Aristotle to Steve Jobs, were fans of long walks.
Exposing yourself to fresh air and different sites along with the easy, basic movement of walking can fire up your neurons like nothing else. My husband, who happens to be my business partner, and I have planned out new workout programs, re-arranged the gym, and resolved other business issues while on our daily walks.
Quick tip: use your smartphone to create an audio note if you think you might lose your big idea or carry a pen and small notebook if, like me, you prefer not to carry your phone and risk interruption.
5. You’ll Experience Stress Relief
Walks can be one of the most meditative experiences you can have. It’s low skill. You don’t have to think through complicated movements. It’s just one foot in front of the other. The simplicity of the movement allows the mind to focus.
You can use your steps like you use your breath in mindful meditation. If your mind wanders, bring your attention back to the step. Use a far mountain gaze and quiet your mind. If you are like me, you’ll find it much easier to let go of tension in the body when you are walking rather than sitting in some uncomfortable position for long periods of time.
6. You’ll Gain a New Perspective
Literally and figuratively. In addition to or maybe because of the previous two benefits, walking is an incredible way to see the world with new eyes. We so often travel the world behind the glass of an automobile, an airplane, or some other mode of public transportation. We miss the details of life because of that separation and the speed at which we travel.
Slowing down and being in your environment allows you to experience new details: the weird weeds that grow up between the cracks in the concrete, the smell of the fall leaves drying and crumbling, the sound of the birds, the feel of the breeze. Walking is a great way to reconnect with the nature around you or the nature of the area around you if you live in a big city.
A Deeper Connection
Rather than leading to divorce, my walks with my husband have strengthened our relationship. It has become our special time together where we can talk about our business, our lives, our plans, and our dreams. It’s also a time when we can just be together quietly and peacefully.
We started our walking habit as a way to get a little more movement in our life, but we’ve come to appreciate how it has added a little more life to our movement. We are much more connected to one another, our neighborhood, and our natural surroundings. And it all started by putting one foot in front of the other.
Even if it’s down to the end of the block and back, give walking a try. No fancy equipment needed — just a sense of exploration, an open mind, and the desire to slow down for a little while.