How Simply Walking for Exercise Enabled Me to Keep up with People Half My Age on the Hardest Hike of My Life. It Can Do The Same For You, Too!
Walking for Exercise
My heart is pumping so hard it feels like it’s about to explode and splatter all over the inside of my rib cage. Blood screams through my veins and when forced into my eardrums, it thumps like a bass drum on either side of my head. I am boiling hot with a cold frosting, as a cool breeze sucks the sweat off my face. My thighs feel like pistons slowly grinding up and down, glowing orange with the heat of pain and exhaustion. It’s been 33 years since I’ve experienced these sensations, running for my high school cross-country team.
My son Koby and I were on a college tour in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. My niece Rebecca lives out there and when she hospitably offered to take us on a hike, my hand shot up, “great!” Who doesn’t love a nice hike with a mountain vista? Unfortunately she wasn’t very specific or maybe, it’s the mountain culture out there (everyone seems fit and outdoorsy). I assumed that a hike in small town Squamish, less than an hour’s drive from downtown Vancouver, was going to be of the horizontal variety, with a couple of inclines, just like back home.
In retrospect, I was suckered in with “It’s one of the most popular hikes…” The name of the trail, “The Chief”, should have set off alarm bells, but I wasn’t listening.
The twisty mountain road leading to Squamish from the city was totally enchanting. The endorphins must have clouded my judgment when “The Chief” was pointed out to me in the distance. I raised my hand to shield my eyes from the sun, “it’s only three fingers tall” I deluded myself. On the trail, even as it became clear that it was 99.9% vertical, I was still avoiding the truth and secretly hoping we would hit a long flat meadow around the next bend…
No meadows. No flat stretches. The vertical just didn’t stop! Steep wooden stairs, well worn rock faces and the odd ladder, here and there. Frankly, I wouldn’t have been surprised if at any moment I imploded and spontaneously combusted at the same time!
Alternatively, I had visions of having to give up, turn around with my tail between my legs and go sit in the rental car until the kids returned. They would wake me from a nap, slapping with excitement on the driver side window, telling me how amazing it was.
I looked upwards, yet another flight of these torturous stairs! Then I saw that Koby and Rebecca, both less than half my age, and in excellent athletic condition, were suffering too! Holy crap! What’s going on?! I’m supposed to be 50 years old, but I could still keep climbing even as my heart was puffing up like a Pelican’s throat pouch. I was still able to make my legs move, even through they were on fire. There were times when I was even able to over-take the kids or hover in-between them.
14 months before this moment, I was 30+ pounds overweight. I sat on my fat butt everyday as I worked at the computer. I planned to go to the gym, but something always came up and I would postponed my exercise. This had been happening for years and it wasn’t until I gave up on the idea of going to the gym, and decided to look at everything in my daily life as a form of exercise, did things change for me. I bought my first digital pedometer (a Fitbit Zip) and started to look at life through an objective lens. I would measure how much I would walk in a week and what those activities were, then I would figure out how to hack them.
I discovered that my weekly grocery shopping trip would include 1 to 1.5 miles of walking. So now I would look for ways to increase that. I’d park as far away from the grocery store as I could. After loading groceries in the car, I would walk the shopping cart back into the store and then return to the car. If coffee was the same price or on sale at another store in the mall complex,I would walk there too. Before I knew it, I was able to push my weekly grocery shopping distance to 2 to 2.5 miles. Over a year that is 130 miles of walking for exercise.
Commuting via Public Transport
When I take public transportation, rather than stand around and wait for my bus or train to arrive, I walk one, two or more stops on either end of my commute. That could add up to 3 miles a day, which would be approximately 780 miles a year!
Walking the Dogs
Not everyone has a dog, or two, I know, but the thought process is what is important here. I use to walk my two dogs together and get about 1.15 miles, 2 or 3 times a day which is 2.3-3.45 miles. We have issues when one of the dogs sees a squirrel, and from an observers’ point of view, it’s not a pretty sight. Then it dawned on me, walk them separately, and since I wouldn’t be wasting time dealing with the entangled leashes, it would only cost me about 50% more time. Now I have a lovely brisk walk with each dog and I get around 6.5 – 7 miles a day. That really adds up, like 2,555 miles a year.
Walking while Working
Since I spend many hours a day at my computer writing, building websites, photo retouching, video editing and many more tasks, this seemed like it needed to be hacked, big time!
I started researching walking desks and my first test was adapting a old treadmill we have in our basement. It didn’t take long for me to realize, that even walking at 1-1.5 mph, I could not only do all he activities I needed to on the computer, but the standing and walking helped me concentrate. I then upgraded my walking desk to a better DIY setup with an old Ikea FREDRICK desk bought off of Craig’s List for $70 and an inexpensive small, Confidence Power Plus Motorized Electric Treadmill for $199 (detailed blog posts all about walking desks are coming soon!). I have not looked back and frankly can’t ever see myself sitting at a desk to work again.
On average my total daily walking for exercise, distance (all the activities I did that day and the walking desk) is somewhere between 7-10 miles a day. Currently I am in my 23rd month of the LHD lifestyle and walking about 12-14 miles a day, as I am attempting to hit 5,000 miles walked in 2 years! [Update: 2 years and 2 weeks. Traveling for Thanksgiving slowed me down…]
It doesn’t matter how much you walk, just move as much as you can, and you will see results!
What I discovered was, by looking at everything I did in my day from the mundane to the necessary, and finding ways to hack more walking for exercise out of each individual activity, I was able to lose 30lbs of weight and walk 1,000 miles in 6 months! Now, to be perfectly transparent, I was also hacking my food (read more about how to do that here.) Regardless of the food side of the equation, hiking The Chief was 14 months after I had started putting my daily life and walking into syncronicity. Without knowing it, I was able to create this quiet reservoir of energy, strength and stamina that paid off when I started my ascent The Chief, on that day.
I was so surprised that I was able to not only make it up to the summit and then down, but I was expecting to be paralyzed with muscle fatigue for the days following this accomplishment – I experienced no negative effects on the days that followed!
The Chief, Squamish, B.C.
To put this hike into perspective, The Chief is the “second largest granite monolith in the world” and stands at 2,297 feet or 700m tall. My Fitbit One digital pedometer, which records flights of stairs climbed, was smoking and at the summit as it displayed 166 flights of stairs! That day I even earned the Fitbit “150 stairs in a day” badge!
You Are What You Do!
Reveling in my accomplishment on the summit of The Chief, my sandwich tasted 100 times better than it deserved to. The view was absolutely spectacular and as I was taking it in, a gentleman walked into my field of view. I said hello and told him how I was amazed to have survived the hike up. He wasn’t particularly impressed, but congratulated me anyway. I asked him if this was his first time on The Chief and he responded by putting me in line! He pointed to his house in the town of Squamish below us, told me he was 67 years old and climbs The Chief every Saturday and Sunday for a little fresh air and a stroll!
I guess YOU are what YOU do! Get walking for exercise!
Thanks for Reading