Written by Bariatric Choice newsletter editor Jim Goodwin
As I sit down to write this piece on walking, thermometers in Bismark, North Dakota are struggling to reach 4 degrees Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, the Northeast corner of the United States is being buried in snow. Some sections of that region are anticipating about a foot and a half of frozen precipitation before the storm subsides. Although the mighty Mississippi River is in no danger of freezing as it passes by Memphis this evening, the same cannot be said of people out on Beale Street as temperatures are predicted to drop into the low 30's.
While it might seem odd to be discussing ways to add extra steps to your walking routine while Old Man Winter is in the middle of his seasonal temper tantrum, winter is actually a very good time to explore new ways to stretch your legs and expand your range.
Unless you are a bear or some other naturally hibernating creature, inactivity during the winter months can cause you to collect an unhealthy number of excess pounds. This makes it much more difficult to hit your prime bathing suit weight when the warm weather months return.
Walking is an effective and easy way to stay active
When it comes to getting active, walking is just about the easiest and safest way to get moving. You don't need special equipment. You don't need an expensive membership. You don't need a coach. You do, however, need to get off the couch.
OK, now that you're thinking about getting up and moving, let us talk about ways to make that notion of motion a bit more productive.
Less efficiency = more calories
One of the first steps to adding more steps to your daily walking pattern is to become a little less efficient.
Seriously, how many times have you wrestled with five or six bags of groceries as you've made your way from your car to your front door? While this exercise in frustration and agility might have some minor benefits as an upper body workout, it is wasted opportunity when it comes to increasing your step count.
Next time, try grabbing just one or two bags. Place those bags on a counter or table and go back for one or two more. Repeat the process until all the bags are safely indoors. Your back may thank you later and you'll slowly be building endurance for longer stretches of walking that might just happen if you follow some of our other tips.
You can adapt this simple trick for days you do laundry as well. Rather than struggling with one heavy basket of clean clothes, just grab a few items. Put them away and then go back for more. Yes, it takes a little more time but the cumulative health benefits can make that extra time pay off in firmer legs and fewer pounds.
Browse more before buying
Speaking of groceries and clothing, supermarkets, big-box stores and shopping malls are ideal places to get in some extra walking when the outdoor air is rather chilly.
Don't start shopping the moment you enter a grocery store. Walk around the inner perimeter of the store first. If things aren't too crowded, you might even want to walk down an aisle or two. If you see something you want to purchase, do not put it in your cart. Finish your walk first and then go back for it. This 5 to 10 minute exercise just might relax you enough to help you resist grabbing an unhealthy but oh, so tempting treat or two. If so, that's a double bonus!
Big-box stores also provide an excellent opportunity to boost your step count, boost your endurance, burn some calories and firm up your legs in preparation for warmer days.
Your opening strategy for added steps in a big-box store is similar to your grocery store approach. You start by covering the inner perimeter. Since most of these multi-purpose shopping venues are a bit bigger than your average supermarket, you might find the distance a bit daunting at first. That's OK. Feel free to stop in one or two of your favorite sections and browse. Browsing is fine but to make this plan work, you should again follow the rule of not putting anything in your cart. Nothing. Nada.
Once you've completed your circuit of the store, you can now begin your regular shopping pattern or rush back for that irresistible deal you noticed while you were browsing; your choice. Either way, you've added a decent amount of extra steps to your total and, perhaps, even scored a bargain at the same time.
Go the extra mall
If grocery stores are a stroll and big-box stores are a short jog, shopping malls can be a marathon. Unless you are already in peak walking form, resist the temptation to walk the entire mall in one inspiring but tiring burst of misspent energy. All you are likely to accomplish the first time is sore legs, tired feet and, perhaps, a bit of frustration as the group of seniors that walk the mall every other day blasts by you. Next thing you know, you'll be back on the couch watching Real Housewives of Springfield or some similar show while consuming “an unhealthy but oh, so tempting treat or two” and wishing there was a simple way to become a little more active.
In other words, you have to become a little more active before you can become a lot more active. Don't get discouraged when you discover you have limitations. Stretch your limitations a bit at a time on a regular basis and you just might be surprised at the results.
Find the closest parking space (to the back of the lot)
So, rather than parking at the entrance nearest to the store you want to visit at your local mall, choose an entrance a little further away from that store. That extra bit of walking from the new entrance to your chosen store and back to the entrance can add enough extra steps to make a difference. After a few times, choose an entrance even further away. This is one of the ways you can transform that little more active into a lot more active.
It takes time. It takes a bit of extra effort. If you stick with it though, your investment of time and effort can give you a head start when warmer weather returns. With stronger legs, you’ll be more willing to park a bit further away from store entrances, go for an evening stroll with a friend or explore your local parks and walking trails.
It is said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. I hope these quick tips help you take that first step towards a lighter, brighter, better future. Let the journey begin!