What I’ve learned from walking for 540 straight days

Ahskendrick/ March 2, 2023/ HEARTcare

By Astrid Kendrick, EdD

Before New Year’s Eve of 2020, my sister challenged me to join the Fernie Streak, a 31-day challenge to do something outside every day for the following month of January. Because I was carrying some extra mental, emotional, and physical weight from losing my mom to cancer in late 2019,  breaking my arm in February 2020, and parenting and working through the pandemic shock for the remainder of 2020, I decided to take my sister’s challenge.

January is a tough month to commit to daily outdoor activity because it’s dark, freezing cold, and a super intense and stressful time for me at work. Given these realities, I chose walking as my outdoor activity and decided that I would do it during my lunch break to take advantage of the warmest and lightest time of the day. So, in early 2021, I dragged myself from my desk out for a walk, aiming for a minimum of 20 minutes. On the 31st, when I was about to claim victory and end my streak but then my husband said, “This has been fun. Why not keep going?”.

So, I did.

Flash forward 540 days, and I’m still keeping to my goal of walking outside for 22 minutes per day (often longer, but never shorter). I even invested part of my Wellness Spending Account in June of 2021 towards buying an Apple watch to better track my streak.

So, what has all this walking taught me?

  • Once a habit is formed, it’s very hard to break. Even on days when the weather has been ridiculous (-30 or +35 Celsius, rain, snow, sleet, or sun), I have felt fatigued, or my daily schedule has been back-to-back meetings, I head outside to walk because I can’t stand the thought of not walking.
    • Gear matters. Investing in proper shoes and all-weather clothing makes all the difference, although I’m still trying to find decent rain and waterproof shoes.
    • Scheduling time is the only way to keep going. I set time in my daily calendar for walking and book my other activities around it.
    • To dedicate time to my daily walk, I often will start work earlier or eat lunch at my desk so that I’m still productive, but I’ve also done my daily self-care.
    • The route really doesn’t matter. I’ve walked the same 3-4 km for most of the school year so that I can stay close to my place of work and complete the entire loop within the 30 minutes of my lunch break.
    • Podcasts, noon call-in shows, and good music are great motivators.
    • While having a walking partner (or an active dog) is helpful, committing to moving means getting out of the house whether I have company or am alone.
    • Planning ahead means packing appropriate gear along when I’ve gone on vacation or attended meetings and conferences.
    • People will happily go for a walk if they’re invited, and walking meetings are much more pleasurable than online ones.
    • People who shovel their sidewalks are angels.

    Most of all, I learned that walking was an easy way for me to restore my overall well-being. My mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health has steadily improved since January 2021, and my family doctor noticed this progress during my yearly physical.

    I don’t believe that walking every day is the self-care magic wand that will work for everyone, but it has made a real difference for me.