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November 2021 Issue
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How to start walking 1200km

Elaine Hargreaves says to focus on the immediate benefit of walking each day. Photo: Elaine Hargreaves

They say every great journey begins with a single step. But sometimes knowing if you’re ready to take that first step is the hard part.

The Walk1200km challenge invites readers to take the first step on a great, year-long journey. In doing so, it acknowledges that the prospect of walking 1200km in a year might seem daunting, perhaps even off-putting. So how to best get in the right frame of mind to start, and then to continue?

Elaine Hargreaves, associate professor at the University of Otago’s School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Sciences, says you’re more likely to take that initial step if you can see immediate benefits from the activity. 

“We know from a theoretical perspective that people need to feel like there are positive outcomes obtained from the behaviour. With walking, that could be mental health benefits, physical benefits or social benefits,” Hargreaves says.

In other words, we need to walk for the sake of walking, without being fixated on a far-off future goal. Don’t focus on clocking up the 1200km, focus on your first walk, and then the next one. 

“We keep going with whatever challenges we set because we get something out of it; because we feel immediate benefits,” says Hargreaves. “It’s about being able to identify that you feel better after every walk. That’s going to keep the motivation going.”

And, motivation is the keyword, especially for a challenge that lasts a year. We’ve all made new year’s resolutions that we’ve never kept, signed up for that gym membership where we start off gung-ho but then start inventing excuses not to go. Getting started is really only the first step. But if we understand why we’re starting, we’re far more likely to finish. 

Here are Hargreaves’ tips for getting started on the Walk1200km challenge, and how to stay the course.

1- Ask yourself what you’re getting out of walking and make that immediate benefit the focus. 

2- Sign up with a friend, or family member (or a group). This keeps you accountable and it’s often easier to get motivated if you’re part of a group. Joining a social network (see the Walk1200km Facebook group) with like-minded people doing the challenge is great, as it validates what you’re doing.

3- Make walking a daily habit. Associations and habits are a key part of human behaviour – like the way we automatically associate brushing our teeth at night with going to bed; one naturally follows the other. Combine walking with a certain stimulus or cue. Maybe go for a walk every day after lunch. Over time, that connection will become stronger. 

Register now for Walk1200km.