With vaccination numbers on the rise and Covid-19 cases steadily declining, most people across the U.S. have started catching glimpses of the “old normal.” This is especially true for the fitness space: Health club chains and boutique studios are opening their doors again. On the one hand, I’m excited to finally have access to machines and equipment. On the other, working out from home forced me to experiment with new routines and I was surprised to find that the benefits of walking every day served me better than hours on a treadmill ever did (or could).
My passion for the gym was already waning when my husband and I first went into lockdown back in March 2020. Running wasn’t an option after sustaining a prior knee injury, and I never felt comfortable hanging around the free weights and barbell machines by myself, so working out from home wasn’t a foreign concept to me. So when my neighborhood Crunch closed its doors, I revisited the programs I’d had the opportunity to try for work over the years, like Yoga With Adriene’s 30-Day Yoga Challenge, Sweat It To Shred It by YouTuber Sarah’s Day, Ashley Borden’s 6 Weeks 2 Sculpted, and Crush60.
Dusting off some of these at-home routines was helpful in that they kept my body moving during what would have otherwise been a long, sedentary winter. Still, quarantine made me fitful. I didn’t just need to move, I needed to be somewhere, anywhere, that wasn’t the two-bedroom apartment that had become not only my home and office but my husband’s home and office. So, as soon as the biting winter temperatures that often plague New Jersey started to warm up a little, I told my guy to put on his coat and shoes. We were going for a walk; the first of many we’d take throughout the pandemic.
Over the next few months, walking became a weekly (sometimes daily) occurrence. Parks were closed for a long time, but that didn’t deter us; we walked around our complex and neighborhood. Some days we’d lose track of timing exploring the town and in deep conversation. Some days, we said nothing. The walks served as a form of cardio, yes, but, more importantly, they were cathartic: a form of moving therapy when it felt like the world was never going to go back to “normal.”
And I wasn’t the only one reaping the benefits of walking during the pandemic. In a study published in the journal Nature Communications exploring how COVID-19 affected walking behavior in U.S. cities, from mid-February 2020 (pre-lockdown) to late June 2020 (easing of lockdown restrictions), researchers discovered that recreational walking surpassed pre-pandemic levels in certain areas. For Ironwoman and founder of Fluid Running, Jennifer Conroyd, a certified fitness trainer who was not involved in the study, these findings didn’t come as a surprise. Leisurely walks offer a slew of the sort of mental and physical health benefits, she explains, many of which people were craving at the time.
“From a mental perspective, walking allowed people to change their scenery and escape from confinement in a way that was deemed safe by the CDC,” Conroyd tells STYLECASTER over email. “It also allowed people to socially interact with friends in their ‘bubble’ and motivate each other to exercise together while allowing for much-needed human connection.” Leisurely walks were also a practical, affordable source of physical activity entire families could take part in, Conroyd points out.
New Jersey restrictions have been lifted for quite some time now, but I’ve yet to renew my gym membership. I’ve decided to stick with my walking routine, instead. I explore new routes to keep things fresh and supplement the cardio with low-impact strength exercises and regular yoga practice. If Covid-19 taught me anything, it’s that my mind and body need exercise, and, for me, walking checks all the boxes. If you’re interested in starting your own walking routine, here are a few tips to get started.
1. Walk With A Friend Or Loved One
The buddy system can (and should!) be applied to walking workouts, too. Invite a friend or loved one to join you on your route, volunteer to visit their neighborhood, or agree on a meeting place you both have yet to explore. Not only will your camaraderie hold you accountable on days you struggle to get moving, but Conroyd also says the conversation will add some pep to your step and make the time fly.
2. Plug-In to Tune Out
I’m a morning bird, but my husband’s a night owl, so sometimes when I take an early stroll, I’m heading on the door solo. On days like these, I’ll pop in my AirPods and will either listen to a podcast (my current favorites are Novel Pairings, Drama Queens, I Am All In With Scott Patterson, and Feel Better, Live More with Dr. Rangan Chatterjee) jam out to a playlist or get lost in an audiobook. In addition to simply enhancing this little bit of “me time,” Conroyd says having something to uplift your spirits and keep your mind busy will help you walk farther and stay motivated.
3. Explore Different Routes
Covid or no Covid, a change of scenery is always welcome. Explore new walking routes around your neck of the woods, or drive to a neighboring town and see what its streets have to offer. Switching things up will keep your walks feeling fresh, and expose you to new surroundings. In addition to a new locale, Conroyd suggests walking on different textures (think grass vs a concrete sidewalk vs rocks on a hiking trail, etc.) as the change will not only be great for keeping things interesting, it will also
“get small muscles in the feet moving,” she says.
4. Follow A Guided Routine
If you need a boost of motivation, but your walking buddy is MIA, there are plenty of guided walking workouts to help you reach a variety of goals like weight loss, meeting a certain number of daily steps, and even to help you prep for a race. There are also guided walking meditations and breathing exercises if you’d really like to hone in on the mental benefits of walking. You can find these on apps like Headspace and Calm.
5. Walk Indoors
I used to think indoor walking workouts were pointless and kind of silly. Where are you walking to, besides the next room? I also associated them with grainy VHS tapes, neon spandex leggings, and wrist sweatbands for the longest time, but I was mistaken: Indoor walking workouts are the OG version of a guided walk that gets your step count up with positive encouragement from the instructor. A lot of videos have a great soundtrack, too, and some routines even involve strength training intervals or dance moves to get your heart rate up. Some of my favorite indoor walking workouts are free on YouTube. If you’re interested, I highly recommend checking out Up to the BEat Fit! with Gina B., this workout from Holly Dolke, growwithjo’s Walk With Jo series, Get Fit With Rick and anything by Leslie Sansone.
No matter what you choose, there’s really no wrong way to get started.