The walker’s slump.
You used to feel proud of yourself for just getting out of the house. You smiled and nodded at the other walkers, pleased with yourself to be in such energetic company. You felt proud when you passed a slowpoke and competitive when you saw someone faster. You set goals for yourself. By the next month, you were walking a mile in fifteen minutes instead of twenty minutes.
Now you’re walking as fast as you can, and you can’t think of any new goals to set. Your daily exercise has become just another chore.
The first thing you need to do is remind yourself why you started walking in the first place. Chances are that you were overweight, out of breath, or suffering from a multitude of middle-aged health problems (from high blood pressure to constipation) that your doctor told you could be helped by exercise. You’ve probably started to take the health benefits of walking for granted, which increases the temptation to stop.
You need to play some psychological games with yourself to retrieve your motivation.
One way to renew your interest is to change the geography of your walks. I know this isn’t always easy, especially if you live in a cold climate and must walk indoors (usually in a gym or shopping mall) in winter. In temperate months, though, look for pleasant open spaces–some of them may only be a short drive from your home–that you haven’t tried before.
If you’re worried about safety, call a local walkers’ or runners’ organization and find out where and when the real fitness fanatics train. You may find that dozen of exercisers gather every morning in a secluded local park, and you can tag along for the scenery.
One man I know discovered that his local high school track team trained every spring morning along a river walk that he’d considered too isolated for safety. The students enjoyed his company (though they couldn’t believe it when he turned down their proffered doughnuts at the end of his walk), and the gentle competition helped him step up his walking pace.
If you’re in good health, you may also want to plan more challenging walks in real countryside. Check with your doctor if you’re planning a walk that includes hills. Training for a walk in more rugged country can make your daily routine more challenging.
Another way to keep yourself on your feet is to promise yourself a small reward at the end of every week of walking. I call this the “bribe yourself” fitness plan. Buy yourself that new hardcover mystery novel instead of waiting patiently for it to come out in paperback. End your walk with a movie you’ve been dying to see. (This only works if you’re a late-afternoon walker.) Purchase and prepare the foods you most love for breakfast and set everything out so that it will be waiting for you when you get home from your early-morning walk.
Many people (I’m not one of them) also enjoy listening to music or podcasts when they walk. I try to empty my mind and just enjoy the scenery in Central Park, because sometimes my best ideas surface when I’m concentrating on nothing but putting one foot in front of the other.
A final note: There may be people in your life who are discouraging you from walking, or at least encouraging you to “skip it just this once.” This may be the time to seek reinforcement from like-minded exercisers who share your fitness goals. It’s just as hard to reestablish the habit of walking as it is to start walking in the first place. Maybe even harder, because a return to the sedentary lifestyle has something of the depressing psychological impact of a drug or alcohol relapse.