Doing one simple task – committing to taking the first step and getting out of your house – is actually usually all that you need to power through an entire walking workout. If you’re missing walks or falling short of your ideal step goal, this one simple motivation tool can go a long way to ensuring that you stay active. Walking doesn’t have to be difficult – it’s the most recommended form of cardio, and also a low-impact exercise that’s easy on your body.
Make it easier to start (and finish) your walks on walking days with these easy tips. We’ll also cover when you should cut your walk short early, and when you shouldn’t try to walk at all. Every walk starts with one first step, so get out and walk today!
What does it mean to “take the first step?”
It means committing to getting prepared, getting dressed, and taking that first step outside your door on days you’re planning to walk. If you’re feeling just a bit tired or unmotivated, you don’t need to commit to walking for a whole hour (or however long your daily walk may be). Just get yourself out the door and see how you feel. Chances are, you’ll keep on walking and finish your entire walking workout.
Why is starting your walk a powerful motivator?
The more steps you need to take and obstacles in the way of going out and walking, the greater the chances that you’ll make an excuse not to walk. Walking may not be difficult for you, but if you’re planning to walk on a cold winter morning you may not feel up for getting out of bed, picking out an outfit, making a snack, and any other prep work required. Even once those tasks are completed, doing your 30 minutes a day of daily walking might seem daunting. Just one step or 5 minutes of walking, should be fairly easy, however.
Just starting any task, like walking, can build momentum that can carry you through towards your goal. Enterpreneur.com recommends committing to 5 minutes of a difficult task when you’re low on motivation. By the time you get finished that 5 minutes you may be so engaged that you won’t want to stop. The same principle can apply to walking as well.
Why focus on the first step?
You don’t have to literally commit to one step. It could be the first minute, or first 100 steps. Chances are that once you’ve already put in the work to get ready and get moving, you won’t want to let it go to waste.
There’s actually a term for this feeling – the “sunk cost fallacy.” Time Magazine describes sunk costs as the tendency for people to continue on a course of action (or keep spending money) based on the effort they put into the project in the past – not the potential rewards in the future. We should be clear that most of the time, thinking in terms of sunk costs is not a good idea. But in the case of walking motivation, you can use this feeling to your advantage.
Take our morning walking example. After waking up early, getting dressed, eating a quick snack and starting your walk, are you really going to go turn around, go back inside, change back into your pajamas and go back to sleep again? Chances are you won’t.
Make things easy for yourself
To ensure that you actually get yourself out the door before giving up, make it as easy as possible to start walking.
Prepare your gear (and snacks) ahead of time – If you’re at home, lay out your walking gear and prepare a light pre-walking snack (if you need one) ahead of time. You won’t have to decide what to wear and get ready, but you can just get dressed and go. If you’re at work, consider leaving a pair of walking shoes at the office or taking other steps to make things easier.
Know your route – Having a pre-planned walking route that you know you can complete removes a lot of potential excuses for not walking. If you’re going for a short morning walk, have a few go-to routes that you have already timed out. At the office, this could even involve walking the hallways or walking up and down a few flights of stairs instead.
Remember why you’re walking – Keeping your health or fitness goal in mind can motivate you to follow through with your walk. Whether it’s walking to get healthier, losing weight through walking, or spending time walking with a friend, focusing on why you’re walking can overcome most excuses.
When you really should call it a day early
If you’re truly committed to taking the first step on your walk, you’ll almost always complete your daily walk. Over months and years, there will be days where you really do need to stop early. This may only happen once a month or even a few times a year, but you should listen to your body and take an early rest when you need to. Here are some potential reasons to actually turn around and go back.
Pain or injury – If you realize that you’re feeling pain or more than normal soreness, you could be facing an injury that needs rest. Trying to walk through pain is a sure way to make an injury worse. For instance, you might have initially felt fine, but notice pain in your knee or soreness in your lower back in that first minute of walking. Completing an intense walking workout is likely to make those injuries worse.
Extreme fatigue or tiredness – There are some days where our gas tank is simply running on empty. If you make it out the door and you’re already exhausted, you might be suffering from overtraining and need additional rest. Since you’re probably not risking immediate injury, a great way to test this is to walk a minute and see if walking boosts your energy enough to finish your workout.
Alarm signals from your body (or brain) – Anyone who exercises has probably had a day where a voice in the back of their head is telling them they really need to take the day off. As you get more experience, you can differentiate the normal feelings of reluctance to exercise from alarm bells going off. It could be that you’re overtrained, or starting to get sick, or suffering from an injury you’re only vaguely aware of. If you’re getting strong signals that “exercise is wrong today,” take the day off. If this happens on a regular basis, consider going to a doctor for a checkup, or evaluating whether anything is really wrong or whether you’re just looking for reasons not to exercise.
When you shouldn’t try to walk at all
There are some days where you shouldn’t even try to force yourself to walk at all. You may actually convince yourself to complete a walking workout that’s going to be counterproductive to your goals, increasing your risk of injury or overtraining.
Rest days – Rest days are there for a reason – to give your body a chance to heal. Some people are able to walk (almost) every day, but many people need to rest at least one day a week to sustain a walking program. Doing a punishing walking workout during your rest day may get steps in the short run, but can lead to injuries, fatigue or loss of motivation in the long run. It’s also important that you get proper sleep so that you can have energy and recover from your workouts. Make sure that your morning (or night) walking habit is not making you chronically sleep deprived!
When you’re injured – If you’re suffering from an injury, or if you’re experiencing new or sudden pain, don’t try to walk through the pain. You might make your injury even worse, which could take you off your feet for an extended period of time. See a doctor about any new or worsening pain to see what next steps you should take. Depending on your situation, your doctor may recommend complete rest, low-intensity exercise, or ways to mitigate pain if your injury can’t get any worse.
When it’s dangerous outside – Don’t push yourself to walk in extremely bad weather. Find an alternative, like walking on a treadmill, at-home cardio workouts, yoga at home or bodyweight strength training instead. It’s important to differentiate between inconvenient weather (like regular summer heat or normal cold winter weather) and something dangerous, like a blizzard or heatwave. Walking will still be there when the weather improves!
Get a friend involved!
If you’re having trouble consistently getting your foot outside your door, consider setting a regular time to walk with a friend. You won’t want to let your friend down, and you’ll be much less likely to give in to excuses knowing that you’ll have to call your friend and tell them you can’t make it. If you don’t have a walking buddy yet, help a friend get healthier! Walking is one of the easiest forms of exercise, and there are many ways to get your friends into walking. You’re also helping your friend get healthier, which makes you feel great.
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