I have exercised more or less at different points in my life, and my weight has swung to shocking highs and lows with that exercise or lack thereof. In February 2021, I decided to get a handle on my exercise practices with concentrated effort. However, as most people will tell you, deciding to exercise and actually exercising are different beasts. The trick I used to get into exercising regularly may not work for everyone, but it worked astonishingly well for me.
If you’re gym-averse, I hope this guide can be helpful to you: it doesn’t require going to the gym at all!
Rely on the teachings of Atomic Habits: Create a mental trigger for a specific habit you already have, replacing it with going for a walk. I chose to respond to my feeling of boredom, but you could choose any specific habit you already have. Examples include if you snack often, or if you tend to doomscroll!
Once you’ve created that mental trigger, keep relying on it until your new behavior is consistent. For me, any time I became bored, I would go for a walk. This will become a fully established habit of its own, replacing the old one entirely.
Important to note: time and distance on your walk don’t matter! In fact, there shouldn’t be a goal for walk time or distance. It’s okay to miss some days, to go further or only a few minutes others, or to go twice or more in a single day. All that matters is that you consistently go on walks.
I personally walked through neighborhoods near me, but you could go to a park and walk. That said, there is value in making your habit as accessible as possible. Adding barriers to starting your walk will make it harder to establish your habit. I had a water bottle and a change of clothes ready near my door so I could start walking within a minute or two of wanting to do so. For myself, I feel if I had somewhere to drive before walking, I would have been much less successful in walking more often.
When you establish your own habit of walking on a regular basis, that will already be more than enough to get you to a healthy lifestyle alongside a semi-managed diet. I wanted to go further and become more physically capable, which I discuss next.
Expanding the habit
Growing your habit of walking to include other forms of exercise depends on your established habit of going on regular walks. Don’t overdo it here: if you try to do too much at once, you could end up losing your habit and having to start over. As I noted before, adding barriers to starting a walk will make it that much more difficult to establish a habit; having pre-requisites like driving somewhere is a barrier the same as having extra work to do on the walk is a barrier! You should feel a natural progression from one habit to the next as you add onto your habit of going for a walk.
My target was to go from regular walking to a full body workout, but to do that full body workout on my walk. I’ll describe how I progressed through that:
During walks, raise one arm above your head as high as you can and hold it for as long as you can. When your arm becomes tired, lower it to your side slowly. Follow these steps again with your other arm. Repeat this cycle as often as you like, or feel comfortable to, on your walk. The goal in this is to gain comfort for something more than walking, and to begin strengthening and stretching your arms.
By the way: if you’re a software developer like me, or otherwise use a computer keyboard often, the above change to your workout will be a night and day difference in your daily keyboard use. Workouts are already vitally important to your long term health, but if you use a keyboard for more than an hour per day, you’ll find that arm workouts are critical to your work satisfaction! This is a guess, but I would bet that any profession that uses their hands extensively would benefit, such as professional musicians.
Continuing: After you’ve established the new habit of raising your arms, you can move on to lifting something with weight! I make the assumption here that at some point while establishing your walking habit, you began carrying a water bottle as well. If so, the next part is easy.
Replace the arm raising exercise with water bottle raising- I recommend holding it in your grip and then raising your arms (both of them!) into a T pose, then holding that as long as possible. Still holding the bottle at length, bring your arms together in front of you and switch the bottle into your other hand then repeat. You can have any number of variations on this, of course.
Frequently Asked Questions
What if I get blisters when walking?
Buy better socks, then better shoes. In the mean time, cover any hotspots or other potential blisters you feel you feel with leukotape. Personally, I wear either thick cotton socks or Darn Tough’s merino wool socks. My shoes are Brooks Ghost 13s in a size 12.5; these were a fantastic upgrade for me, but I didn’t need them for a long time and you may not ever need more than common tennis shoes.
You wanted to turn walking into a full body workout. What about core?
Core comes naturally with certain exercises. As I began working out my arms on my walks, I found myself naturally flexing my core with my breathing pattern and when holding my water bottle at arm’s length. Your mileage may vary; you could instead try a specific standing core workout, or try adding core stretches to your walk at regular intervals.
What about back?
The arm raising workout and the followup suggesting you use your water bottle as a dumbbell both work your shoulders and chest alongside to your arms, but that’s as far as that exercise will take you. I have no idea how to work out your back otherwise. Try a pull-up bar?
What about thighs?
Walk uphill! You could also pause for a set of squats if you prefer, but you won’t be able to start this as soon if you haven’t finished establishing your walking habit.
What about neck?
Why did you choose an arm workout over ___?
Arms don’t do much during a walk. They’re the obvious target to occupy during a period of time they would otherwise do nothing.
Could I do ___ instead of walking?
Sure! The important thing is establishing, then building upon, your habits. The trick is in not pushing yourself too much or taking on too many new habits at once; then your habits will fall apart. I would also recommend sticking to something that works alongside your walk, but if you can establish a different habit, that’s great!
What if it’s cold out?
Yeah, this is the killer. Nothing kills a habit harder than it becoming more difficult to do in a way that’s outside your control. I recommend finding warm and easy to wear clothes for your walk and putting them by the door for when the urge hits you to go for a walk.