Everyday system for walking more

NYC early snowThis is the fifth of seven posts about simple everyday systems for managing your time, health, and eating developed by Reinhard Engels. Fifteen or so years ago, Reinhard was an overweight computer programmer who ate poorly, sometimes drank too much, and avoided exercising.

For most things simplicity is the ultimate sophistication and according to Thoreau, “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”

So Reinhard created habits that were easy to do and could be sustained forever. He didn’t like complicated exercise routines – he wouldn’t like doing them and would likely stop if he made it to a goal.

About ten years ago, I stumbled across Reinhard’s idea for exercising for 14 minutes a day using a sledgehammer to mimic shoveling and other common movements.

Starting there, I checked out his other systems. They were easy to implement and claimed longterm results for himself.

I didn’t really go whole hog on his system because I was already doing, and enjoying, other stuff like lifting weights, but I have used his sledgehammer idea, more as a fun way to rehab from injury.

Anyway, what follows are my shortened versions, from his website and podcast explanations, of his “everyday systems.” I did it for myself to have the ideas in one spot, and for you too, if you’re interested.

“Urban Ranger” is a system for convincing yourself to build the habit of purposeful walking. It’s probably the everyday system I’d choose if I had to pick just one, because it’s at least as good for the mind as for the body.

You’ve probably heard a million things about how great an exercise walking is supposed to be. What you need, then, is something to get you fired up about this humble, uninspiring activity, so you’ll actually do it.

You need to convince yourself that walking is not some last ditch compromise shadow exercise, but that it’s exciting. That’s where urban ranger comes in. It’s like a role that you play, an alter ego. A way of re-imagining yourself so that walking becomes the most important, the most exciting thing that you could possibly be doing. Sound excessive? If you’re like me, that’s what it’s going to take to get you walking at all.

Think about it. We’ve invented one class of machine to spare us physical exertion and another class of machine to inflict it back on us again, but in an infinitely more boring, painful, and useless manner. We berate ourselves that we don’t labor in our leisure time, that we don’t spend our freed hours in that torture chamber, the gym.

You probably don’t exercise as often as you think you should, if at all. Your problem is that you’re squandering willpower on a hopeless task: exercise divorced from purpose. The solution: purposeful exertion; in particular, walking.

You probably can’t kill a caribou for dinner, or plow a field, or do most of the useful work that your ancestors did for thousands of generations. But you can still walk. And believe it or not, walking is enough.

Walking is still useful, interesting, and pleasant. You can think and observe while you walk. You get somewhere. You don’t need any special equipment or outfits. It provides great health returns on very little investment. And you can do it for the rest of your life.

Walk to and from work. If you work too far from home to walk the whole way, practice the noble sport of distance parking and walk part of the way. Walk to run errands. Walk up stairs instead of taking the elevator or escalator. Walk during your lunch hour. Walk when you’ve got cell phone calls to make. Walk to listen to an audiobook. Walk when you’re depressed. Walk when you don’t know what to do next.

The question should be “when shouldn’t I walk?” Walking is the default activity. It’s everything else that needs a justification.

For the sake of your own dignity and the beauty of the world, please don’t put on any silly outfits and pump your arms like a maniac. Just dress and walk normally. That 5% extra health benefit or whatever that you supposedly get from pumping your arms won’t mean a thing when you stop after 3 months because you are tired of looking like a bozo. You’ll unconsciously get faster as you do it a lot. So relax.

You are smarter when you walk. It’s not just the physical movement, it’s the changing scenery around you. I bring a digital voice recorder along to capture my brilliant ideas, to-do lists, and diaryesque inanities. Once a week or so I transcribe it to my computer. I thought of most of the other everyday systems like this, while walking.

How’d Alexander the Great’s army get to India from Greece? How about the Grande Armee of Napoleon, how’d they get all the way from Paris to Moscow? They walked. For thousands of years winning a war was largely a matter of being there before your enemy. So get the aqua sweatpants out of your mind, this is man stuff!