September 29, 2022 11:28 pm
September 29, 2022 11:28 pm

Make a goal to walk more this year

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One sure fire way to ruin your retirement is to establish poor health habits which impact your quality of life and reduce your life expectancy. Most people understand the benefits to good health and make New Year’s resolutions with the intention of addressing their fitness in the upcoming year. Yet, the research firm Strava found that most New Year’s resolutions are already dropped by January 19th or just over a week ago! For those of us who aspire to FIRE, how can we ensure that we maintain our fitness goals to make the most of our retirement? 

Smarter goals

A common mistake when goal setting is to violate one of the principles of the SMART goals framework. This framework states that you should make goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound. The goals that are most likely to be successful will address each of these five elements. In the context of New Year’s resolutions, the most frequently missing element I have seen is the achievable element. For example, you might make a goal to exercise five times per week for the rest of this year. You might even be specific in defining a workout as a 20-minute run or 40 minutes in the gym. However, it is not enough to ask whether a goal can be achieved, but whether you can achieve the goal. If you entered the year working out only once or twice a week then it might not be realistic to go from working out once or twice a week to five times per week.

Instead of creating a grand goal of where you’d like to be, take an honest look at yourself. It can be difficult to be objective, but one easy way to be more objective is to ask an objective source. Thankfully we have an incredibly objective source of truth right in our pockets with our phones. If you are an Iphone user, pull out your phone and open the health app. This app contains several useful features. For this post we’ll focus on the activity section. The activity charts detail exactly how far you have walked over the last day, week, month, and year as measured in steps and in distance. It’s true that we might not have our phones on us at all times, but It’s a great starting point for setting a fitness goal.

Insight: Personally, I’ve averaged 13,300 steps/day over the last year. I’d like to average 15,000 steps/day this year

Walking as Fitness

Walking is a fine form of fitness and achievable for many people. Participating in sports or joining a gym can be intimidating for some people or might require investing in equipment or memberships. In contrast, walking only requires a comfortable pair of shoes and about 20 minutes of your time.

Maybe I’ve convinced you that walking is inexpensive, achievable, and measurable, but is it really effective for improving my health?

Yes! According to multiple sources including the CDC, Harvard Health, and the Washington Post walking is statistically significant in improving your health. Just 30 minutes a day or 7,000 steps is enough to significantly improve your health. For many people, a half hour a day of brisk walking or 7,000 steps is very achievable. Furthermore, most people will be starting from at least a few thousand steps, so the marginal increase in walking might amount to a single 20 minutes a day.

A Priceless Benefit

Time is precious and difficult to measure. Some people can and do trade the majority of the day for wages and income which provides a rough approximation, but this measure is insufficient. With kids there is a value to seeing your children grow up and be successful and that is something that is only possible with time. No other substitute will work. In this sense, your health is priceless.

Between the extreme of measuring the benefits of good health in dollars and simply stating that time is priceless, is to compare the effort of achieving FIRE to how long you can enjoy retirement. Let’s say you take about 20 years to achieve financial independence. If healthy habits allow you to enjoy an additional decade on this earth, then the end result is as if you had gotten back half your working time while still getting to enjoy the journey in the first place. So much can happen in a decade that it feels a shame not to prioritize my health for my family!

Quality of Life

Beyond the number of years to consider, there’s also the quality of those years. With good health I can enjoy doing activities like skiing, hiking, and swimming for longer than I otherwise would. Travel is also another activity to consider. While it can seem easy albeit tedious to travel at a young age, it becomes difficult and even more risky to travel with health problems. For example, you may be unable to fly due to heart problems or you may avoid travelling too far in a national park for fear of a deadly fall. While walking is not a panacea, it can improve your health.

Making a change

Ok, you’re convinced that setting a step goal is a good idea and you’ve got a SMART goal. Great! Here’s a couple ideas for making those steps easier

  • Get a fitness watch – We already know that what gets measured gets improved. A fitness watch builds on the measurement strengths of your phone and allows you to count all your steps. If you really get into monitoring your fitness you can also use it for measuring your resting heart rate trends and encourage you to stand up more.
  • Move to a walkable city – We’re in the midst of the Great Resignation, so why not make a change of scenery? A 2017 Stanford Study found a significant link between city walkability and obesity prevalence. Specifically, a walkable city might have relatively similar averages for step counts recorded in phones, but walkable cities have lower step inequality. The lower inequality implies that more people are close to the average of around 5,000 steps. Moving to a walkable city could cause you to take more steps and improve your health outcomes. Consider a city that scores highly on this Walk Score Page
  • Change Jobs – Did I say something about a Great Resignation? Anyway, your choice of occupation will have an effect on how many steps that you take per day. Depending on the role you could easily hit 7,000 or 10,000 steps per day.
OccupationAverage steps per day
Waiter22,778
Nurse16,390
Retail worker14,660
Farmer14,037
Stay-at-home parent13,813
Teacher12,564
Tradesperson11,585
Hairdresser9,209
Office worker7,570
Call center associate6,618
Source: Average Steps Per Day by Age, Gender, Occupation, and Country (healthline.com)
  • Consider Culture – There isn’t a perfect connection with walkability and obesity. Outside of walkability there appears to be some culture factor which leads to more obesity in the US South and less obesity on the West Coast and Northeast. For an overview of the obesity and criterion of a metro area, check out this article on Wallet Hub

FIRE doesn’t matter if we can’t enjoy it

No one wants to reach retirement only to be plagued with health issues. While much of our health is out of our control, we can mitigate the chance that we suffer from heart disease and obesity.

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