At 41, Cheryl Parker was spending a lot of time on the couch, watching too many reruns of The Big Bang Theory. In fact, her life felt a little like a rerun. “It seemed like everybody else was out there living,” she remembers. “I knew I needed to make a change.” She was so tired of her weight that option No. 1 was weight loss surgery. She chose option No. 2. “I decided I was just going to start walking.”
Parker bought a Garmin Vivofit, one of the dozens of fitness trackers that now make it so much easier to hit 10,000 steps a day. Then she headed out, blaring her favorite tunes, for a fast, 1-mile walk as soon as she got home from her job as a dental hygienist. The rest of the day she’d get in her steps wherever she could—and it quickly made a difference.
The first week she lost 3 pounds, and by week 2 her energy was back and she was sleeping through the night for the first time in years. When week 3 rolled around, she knew she’d never go back to life on the couch: She was 10 pounds lighter and felt about 10 years younger. Soon, Parker waswalking 3 to 4 miles every morning on the trails near her house and loving it. Now, a year and a half later, it still astonishes her how she transformed her body and her health simply by showing up for her favorite time of the day and eating a little better.
“I don’t even know how to put it into words,” says Parker, who lost 80 pounds that first year. “From the start, I just loved being out there. I’m just more of a part of life, watching the world light up as the sun rises.”
“Walking can truly be whatever you need it to be that day,” agrees LA-based fitness expert Sarah Kusch, Prevention‘s new go-to walking guru and your trainer for this challenge. “I actually crave that energized, inspired feeling I get after my walks. It just makes me feel so much better.” Or, as Parker puts it, “It makes me feel alive.”
Ready for a January kick start? Take the 21-Day Walk a Little, Lose a Lot Challenge! You’ll get inspired, drop pounds, and feel great about 2016. Here’s how to get started.
Step 1: Join the team.
If you don’t need motivation or tips along the way, you can totally rock this challenge solo and skip to Step 2. But if you could use some friends to do it with—along with guidance and inspiration—join the Walk a Little, Lose a Lot Challenge team.
|Enroll now at RodaleU.com/walk. There, for $9.99, you’ll score the e-course and the community of other challenge takers, and get set up on our plan.
Log on daily. The official challenge begins January 1, but you can access the plan—the daily tips, lessons, workout videos, and community—anytime after the kickoff date (so it’s never too late to join).
Make friends. Use the chat boards at Rodale U to stay motivated, ask questions, and connect with our online community of walkers and wanderers. Encouraging each other is half the fun!
Step 2: Walk. Every day.
Your goal for the next 21 days is to walk for a minimum of 30 minutes. On average, that will help you log at least 3,000 steps, depending on how fast you go. Combined with the 5,000 steps the average American already takes, that’ll get you close to the magic 10,000. “Even getting out there in your street clothes is awesome,” says Kusch. “If you’re ready to push yourself, aim for a brisker pace.” Need some options? Kusch created seven walking routines to speed results and enhance your experience; score them when you sign up for the challenge. “If you want to meditate, we’ve got that. If you want to burn calories and tone your butt, we’ve got that, too,” says Kusch.MORE: Your 10 Biggest Walking Pains, Solved
Step 3: Learn to love every step.
When walking is at its best, you’re experiencing a heightened version of life while watching pounds fall off—and also taking care of other needs. No wonder multitasking millennials now prefer walking over driving to get around, according to a 2015 poll of 3,000 metro residents. Take Kusch, who loves that she can walk anywhere, anytime, and in whatever clothes she feels like—and that it opens the door to that buzzy, I’m-really-alive feeling she can’t find at her desk, in her car, or on her couch. “At first, I just wanted to explore different cities as I traveled for work,” she says. “Now I’m hooked; no two walks are ever the same.” Here are 10 ways Kusch squeezes more fun out of every step.
1. Capture the moment
Sometimes you want to leave your damn phone at home. But if you’re into Instagram or love photography, snap pics on your walks. “It lets you be creative, and sharing them can inspire friends and family to get out there, too,” says Kusch.
2. Clear your mind
If you’ve found seated meditation practically impossible, try quieting your mind while you walk. “You can get a lot of the same benefits just by focusing on your breath and body,” says Kusch.
3. Talk to people (yeah, really)
“So what if you take a short break?” says Kusch. “I met one of my best friends while taking a walk. If I hadn’t stopped and said hello, I’d have missed out on a lifelong pal.”
4. Dig into data
Fitbits. Garmins. Good ol’ pedometers: There are so many cool options for wearable tech and apps that will track your steps, mileage, and speed. “They’re really motivating,” says Kusch. “My favorite app is RunKeeper.” See 16 weight loss and fitness apps proven to help you reach your goals.
5. Work on gratitude
“Some days I spend my entire walk thinking of things or people I am grateful for,” says Kusch. “It makes me happy, and I go back to the ‘real world’ a better person.”
6. Let yourself be pissed off
“Sometimes I’m mad or just crabby,” says Kusch. “Instead of letting it ruin my day, I give myself 30 minutes to be pissy. I start walking and within 5 minutes I’m over it.”
7. Get off the beaten track
“New surroundings cultivate new thoughts and add an interest to your walks,” says Kusch. “Even if you don’t travel, I’d bet that there is a nearby neighborhood, forest, or city you could explore. Just get out there.”
8. Finally get to that book
“I’m often so tired that when I do have a spare moment to read, I fall asleep,” laughs Kusch. “So I love downloading audiobooks for my walks. I’ll get through a chapter or two in 30 minutes, and then knowing the next chapter is waiting for me makes me excited for my walks.”
9. Call a friend
“I have people that I never get around to calling,” says Kusch. “Now I give them 30 minutes and we catch up while I move my body. It’s a win-win.”
10. Power through podcasts
Here are our top six out of all the awesome free audio series out there to entertain and enlighten you while you walk. (On an iPhone? Download them via its Podcast app or try the podcast app Stitcher.)
If you’re into health, try: Only Human. Beautifully told stories about our “amazing bodies and what happens when they fail us.”
If you want to be inspired, try: TED Radio Hour. Each episode focuses on a common theme—happiness or creativity, for example—based on talks given on the famous stage.
If you want to laugh, try: The Nerdist. Chris Hardwick interviews notable comedians and entertainers while discussing “what it really means to be a nerd.”
If you want ear bubble gum, try: Juicy Scoop with Heather McDonald. She doesn’t hold back when dishing with or about actors, comedians, and reality stars.
If you want a good story, try: Invisibilia. An incredibly entertaining podcast that talks about the invisible forces that control human behavior.
If your sex life could use spice, try: Sex with Emily. Sex expert and Bravo TV star Emily Morse keeps you informed and entertained while offering realistic advice.
Or, get motivated with music
This playlist from trainer Sarah Kusch is great for when you’re ready to increase your speed. Created specifically for the Interval Walk you’ll find in our Rodale U challenge, the music’s energy and pace will match your interval goals.