Walking has a host of mental and physical health benefits, however, with a hectic schedule, it can be tricky to set aside time each day for a regular walking habit. The irony is an everyday walking routine can actually be some of the most productive time of your day — if you know how to use it wisely.
Here’s how to take advantage of time spent walking — to not only get your steps in but also to get more done throughout the day.
“When we go outside first thing in the morning and see sunlight, certain hormones are activated with respect to our circadian rhythm,” explains Diana Bitar, RDN. These hormones help with mood, immunity and energy.
Bitar recommends using these early morning walks to say affirmations and think about what you’re grateful for. This primes you for a good mood throughout the day and helps you feel ready to tackle the day’s challenges, she says. “It also increases productivity, since we feel like we did something significant already.”
Save time by combining your walk and your daily mindfulness commitment, suggests Joy Rains, author of “Meditation Illuminated: Simple Ways to Manage Your Busy Mind.” Walking meditation is easier than it seems: “You can practice simply by noticing what you experience with your five senses as you walk,” says Rains. “You may want to notice the soles of your feet as they connect with the ground. Or you can connect with nature, noticing the colors and shapes of plant life, or the sounds of the birds. Any time your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the present moment.” Taking time to practice mindfulness can help you throughout your day as it lowers stress levels, enabling you to tackle the day’s challenges and minimizes the chance of turning to food as a coping mechanism.
With more people working from home, walking meetings are a great way to stay productive while also taking care of your mind and body. Take a meeting or call via headphones while getting your steps in. You’ll benefit from a change of environment and mood-boosting endorphins, which can also help you think more creatively to tackle that work problem.
Taking work calls during your walk is great, but it’s also a good time to connect with family members (or friends) who don’t live nearby. It’s always nice to catch up, especially if you can burn some calories in the process. Pro tip: Make a list of people you want to call. Not everyone will pick up every time you call, so it’s helpful to have a few options. Keep tabs on who you’re in touch with, who likes to talk, and what their schedules are. That way, you know who to call at different times of the day or week.
“I use my hour run-walk time in the morning as my language-learning time,” says Amanda Webster, a certified trainer and yoga instructor. “I don’t have a lot of spare time during my day, but have a passion for learning French.” Webster says her walking time is perfect for sneaking in her studies: She alternates between listening to French podcasts and making audio recordings of herself speaking the language to strengthen her skills.
“Lately, I’ve been getting into more podcasts, not as a means of entertainment, but to learn new things,” says Maura Blackstone, a physical therapist and personal trainer. “Studies show exercising while learning can also boost the absorption of information and improve your thinking skills,” she adds. Not only can you get a great workout in, but you can also learn something new at the same time — a win-win.
Research shows people are more creative while walking than sitting, which means you may have some of your best ideas on foot. “I make the most of my walks by using voice-to-text memos,” says Joey Held, a communications professional, writer and podcast host. “If I have an idea for a newsletter topic or blog post, I don’t want to lose it, so I’ll just hop into my phone and jot it down,” he explains. “By taking a moment to get those ideas ‘written’ — while you’re getting fresh air — you’ll return home with a bevy of content and confidence.”
A walk can be the perfect opportunity to spend some quality time with a person you love, especially if you’re dealing with a hectic schedule. Try scheduling a walking “date” with your partner or playing games on a walk if you have kids as a way to spend active quality time together. The walk can also be spent talking about goals for the upcoming week or ideas for trying new recipes. It’s the perfect way to spend time together without other distractions.
Checking your social media feed can be a major distraction from work, which is why a morning treadmill walk can be the perfect opportunity to multi-task. “I like to use my morning treadmill walks to catch up on my social media posts and think through new ideas for content,” says Allison Jackson, a certified personal trainer. If social media isn’t your thing, you can also save your favorite TV show for the treadmill or listen to an audiobook.
There’s also something to be said for using your walk to decompress and serve as self-care, so when you get back to work or other daily responsibilities, you’ll feel refreshed. What’s more, since walking provides an energy-boost you can also beat the mid-afternoon slump and save money on that extra cup of coffee. Even with just 10 minutes of walking a day, you’ll improve your overall health and be better able to make your healthy habits stick.
Make progress every day while you work on mini fitness and nutrition goals, like walking more steps. Go to “Plans” in the MyFitnessPal app for daily coaching and easy-to-follow tasks to keep you motivated.