Walking often was a critical part of human evolution. Yet most of us don't do it nearly enough. Instead, we sit for long periods of time, staring at the computer monitor, tv or smart phone. This is great video on how sitting for long periods of time effects your body -- “Our bodies aren’t designed for being sedentary.” Recent research has revealed maintaining a regular fitness regimen cannot counteract the accumulated ill effects of sitting eight to 12 hours a day in between bouts of exercise. When you stop moving for extended periods of time, it's like telling your body it's time to shut down and prepare for death! Additionally, there is strong scientific evidence that walking can have long-term effects on serotonin levels and mood throughout the day.
So walking often is important to your health and longevity. I try to take a brief walk first thing in the morning and then another 30 minute walk after lunch.
There are things you can do to get MORE out of each walk. Here are ten ways to hack your walk with little or no additional effort.
- Walk in the morning– A brief, 15 minutes of morning sunshine exposure can help reset your circadian rhythm (your internal clock), which can have a significant benefit on your energy levels and the quality of your sleep.
- Fasted or after a meal – If you walk upon waking, your body is in a fasted state. Adding some movement in this state helps your body tap into your fat stores for energy, burning away any excess weight. Try to take a 60 minute fasted walk as often as possible. To enhance the fat burning effect, drink some black coffee prior. If you go after a meal, you reduce the blood sugar response to the meal. Lower blood sugar is linked to better health and longevity. I’ve tested this with a blood glucose meter and taking a walk after a high carbohydrate meal had a significant impact the my blood sugar.
- Wear minimal clothes – Again, going back to the sun exposure, if you can expose as much bare skin to the sun as possible (avoid face exposure), you can maximize the amount of vitamin D your body produces. Vitamin D is a critical pre-hormone that plays a roll in hundreds of bodily functions.
- Vary your speed – Just as how High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) can have strong metabolic and fat burning effects, so can low-intensity interval walking. All you have to do is walk fast for a set time (like three minutes), then slower for three minutes, varying the speed during the duration of the walk.
- Go barefoot – Walking on sand or grass has additional benefits that go beyond that of walking, as this allows your body to absorb free electrons from the Earth through the soles of your feet. These electrons have powerful antioxidant effects that can protect your body from inflammation and its many well-documented health consequences. Additionally, walking on multi-plane surfaces barefoot can improve your posture, alignment and natural movement over time.
- In nature – The Japanese call being out in nature Shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing”. It can have a bunch of health benefits includingboosted immune system, reduced stress, and improved mood, sleep and energy.
- Wear a weighted vest – For someone who wants a little challenge or more of a workout from walking, add additional weight. It's also a great way to build endurance.
- Carry Something – Piggybacking off of the weight vest, another option is to carry a dumbbell or kettlebell in one hand – you can carry it like a briefcase (aka farmer’s carry) or to make it more challenging, overhead (waiter’s carry).
- Meditative walk / focus on breath – Box breathing (5 sec in, 5 sec hold, 5 sec out, 5 sec hold) while walking will calm your heart rate and quiet your mind. It’s a great way to de-stress and focus on the present moment.
- Learn something – Listen to a podcast or audio book. Some of my favorites are The Tim Ferris Show and The Kevin Rose Show.
I would urge you to get at least a 30 minute walk in each day and add a few of these hacks to optimize all the benefits.