The One Thing You Should Do Every Day to Get Fit

take a walk in the woods

It’s a very exciting time to be a health and fitness professional. People all over the country are waking up. They’re getting motivated. They’re getting off the couch. They’re making the choice to lead healthy, active lifestyles. I’m not saying this because I live in a fitness bubble and everyone I interact with is all about fitness— the statistics back me up. In 2014, 54 million Americans paid gym membership fees. In 2015, that number grew to 58 million. On average, people with memberships went to the gym at least twice a week, which means just over 100 visits per year. This positive trend is great news for everyone: for me, for the people I work with, and for the American population as a whole. It means as a culture we’re finally beginning to understand we need to take charge of our bodies, our health, and make positive changes to turn back our steady decline toward poor health and chronic disease.

There’s a catch, though. When cultural norms change, ideas tend to explode and propagate so quickly they often outpace practical knowledge. As we rush to the gym and rearrange our lives to include exercise, I want to bring a pragmatic voice to the conversation, and clarify a couple of things about fitness that will help you create an approach for yourself that’s sustainable and realistic.

Easy on the Ego: Temper the Intensity

Many people think they have to run a marathon, complete and Ironman triathlon, or crush a Spartan race to achieve absolute fitness success. The media portrays these events as sexy and hip. It’s easy to think events like these are the be-all and end-all of working out. You’ll see commercials of people crawling through mud, swinging from ropes over water pits, and riding bikes through the lava fields of Hawaii—and you’ll think that’s what it’s all about. Because sure—all that looks cool. Niche gyms like CrossFit and Kickboxing have developed a cult-like mystique. They overwhelm fitness enthusiasts with the idea that getting fit means working out at intensity all the time. The average person looking to get in shape hears one message over all others: more is better, intensity is best. They become convinced that anything else in between is a waste of time.

Let me offer a dose of reality: working out religiously 30-60 minutes a day, five days a week does not guarantee fitness.

Back to Basics

Getting fit is simpler than you might think. One thing that you can do every day—starting today—is start walking. True fact. What you need is constant, consistent movement. Humans were meant to move. If you only move for one hour a day, that’s not enough to counteract the harmful effects of a sedentary lifestyle. When you run the numbers, one hour of hardcore gym time is only about 4% of your day. I’m sorry to say that’s not really going to cut it.

Look at it this way: you roll out of bed and watch the morning news with your cup of warm coffee at the breakfast table. That’s 30 minutes of sitting. Then you head off on your 45 minute commute. That’s another chunk of sitting. Next, you sit at your desk all morning, except for when you walk down the hall for a meeting—during which you sit. Then you eat lunch, probably at your desk because the meeting went too long and you have to catch up on lost time. You plow through the afternoon until five o’clock rolls around and—oh snap! Time to run and pick up the kids. But you don’t run. You sit in your car playing chauffer around town, doing your job as a good dad or mom, shuttling your kids to sports practice, ballet class, or tutoring until it’s time to get back home. You cook dinner, clean, help the kids with homework and then, finally, get some you time—and all you want to do is kick back on the couch.

You may be thinking to yourself: that’s me! Then you ask: Even if I do add an hour at the gym, how on earth am I going to add any more movement time than that?

How to Get Moving

In his book Why Your Chair is Killing You, author James Levine observes that the average American sits for 13 hours per day. That’s over half your day. If you sleep for 8 hours, then what you have left over is 3 hours. You’re facing some tough numbers, I’ll admit. But you have to do something. You have to find a way. Don’t worry, I have ideas. But first, to drive the point home and convince you once and for all you need to get moving, I’ll offer up just a couple more statistics:

  1. According to the World Health Organization, physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality, responsible for an estimated 3.2 million deaths globally.
  2. Walking intensity decreases your risk for mortality. That’s right, your average walking speed is a predictor of how long you will live.

In light of these overwhelming facts, I urge you to give up your preconceived notions of what fitness actually means. I want you to recognize that everyone’s definition is going to be different, but at the end of the day walking and moving consistently is one thing every single person can do to get fit. You don’t have to get up at 4:30 am and join the boot-campers at the local park or flip over tractor tires in the parking lot of a Cross-Fit gym. You don’t have to punch a heavy bag, hold a plank for 10 minutes, or do wind-sprints up a steep hill until you want to throw up.

You do, however, have to ask yourself these questions: How do I get walking and moving and still keep up with my responsibilities? How do I do this without neglecting my job and my kids?

I have answers. You can get started with the following five strategies.

Conference Calls on The Move

If you’re a busy executive or you work in an office, you can do a majority of your calls—conference or otherwise—while you’re walking. A TED Talk released in 2013 given by Nilofer Merchant called “Got a Meeting? Take a Walk” shows you exactly how to pull this off. She proves that office work and movement are not mutually exclusive. Nilofer changed her life by implementing this approach and now she walks an average of 20-30 miles a week by simply taking her calls on the move. If you have to be near your computer to refer to spreadsheets or other documents, you can pace around your room. Not only will your health improve, but so will your mental clarity and performance.

Break It Up

There are jobs where it’s just not possible to do walking meetings. If you’re an accountant, you have to crunch numbers in front of a computer screen—that’s a fact of the work. Team meetings in some fields often require technology to brainstorm ideas and get things done. Everyone needs to see the charts and everyone needs to have their data at hand to contribute. So, if that’s your situation, what can you do?

Start by getting up from your desk and moving every thirty minutes. In the fitness industry, we call this “greasing the groove.” Studies show that a sit-to-stand formula is a great way to counteract the effects of sitting all day. People with occupations that keep them moving have dramatically reduced risk of developing chronic diseases. You don’t have to do too much. Get up and take a small walk through the office. Take the stairs. Avoid escalators. Stand up and do some squats, do a few pushups off your desk—you’ll be surprised how fit you can get just by consistently doing some of these simple things consistently. Build up to four hours a day of light activity. If you’re a numbers person, go ahead and run them. It’s totally within reach.

Set Three Timers on Your Phone

We’re so glued to our phones these days that it’s a no-brainer to use them to schedule in your walking time. We use our phones to wake up, take work notes on, and store our master schedule, so don’t stop there: use yours for health, too. Look at your day and find when you can squeeze in 10-15 minutes for walking. Set those three times in your phone. Follow the schedule and there you are: off and walking.

At Skyterra, we encourage at least three TerraWalks during our program days, ideally out in nature. We’ll even interrupt our own educational sessions and to make this happen. We take movement breaks, no matter how deep in our discussions we are. We love walking, because it’s the easiest and best way to build fitness on a daily basis.

Purchase a Treadmill Desk

If you haven’t heard of these, hop on google and take a look. In a study at a Mayo Clinic facility in Scottsdale, James Levine (the author I mentioned above) found that over a 12-month period participants using treadmill desks increased their daily activity and lost weight. Levine found that walking between 1.1 and 1.3 mph boosts workplace productivity and people who use treadmill desks can realistically walk over 6 miles per day. This strategy might be outside-the-box, a tad expensive, and could be a hard sell for your boss, but like Nilofer says in her Ted Talk (you listened to it, right?) we can’t just follow the crowd. We can’t just sit because everyone else is sitting. That’s a sure way to make sure we develop health problems, and—not to be too alarmist about it—die before our time.

Get a Dog

Something that improved both my relationship with my wife and my fitness was getting a dog. Not just any dog: we got a spunky, high-energy Jack Russell Terrier. Our homeowners association doesn’t allow fences, which at first seemed like a negative, but we found a way to make it a positive. We realized that the Skyterra way doesn’t include fences, either, so in order to walk the walk—literally—we took our own advice. These days we get the little guy out four times a day. The beauty of this is he makes us walk at two very important times: first thing in the morning and right before bed. The morning walk gets our systems going, and the evening walk relaxes us. We love starting and ending our days with ten to fifteen minutes of walking with our furry friend. We’ve both noticed a huge difference in our mood and our fitness. On the weekends we get out for longer walks and hikes because we know our dog needs it. And we need it, too.

Final Thought

Getting healthy and fit doesn’t mean you have to kill yourself in a gym. What it really means is moving every day. It means making some simple changes to your lifestyle to keep your systems running. It means finding the time to walk, do some exercises at your desk, and when you can, maybe do a little bit more. You don’t have to become the next American Ninja Warrior—but you do have to find the time to get that body moving, every single day.