Today I hit the milestone of having an unbroken chain of daily exercise for 365 days. Although I have for most of my life stayed fit through doing serious workouts 2 or 3 times a week (mostly cycling, with some running, weights, swimming and miscellaneous classes), I decided that I wanted to boost my overall health by committing to getting a non-trivial amount of exercise every single day.
My initial motivation was Dan Buettner’s work on “Blue Zones“, the regions of the world where lifespans (and “health spans”) are materially longer than average, and the observation that one of the common factors was daily movement. This might be daily physical work, such as farming, or hobbies such as gardening and social walking. Although I still believe that intense exercise (cardio and weight training) is necessary for fitness and weight management, I also now believe that daily non-intense exercise is enormously beneficial for overall healthy and longevity.
At the time I was also interested in using Jerry Seinfeld’s “chain” method for habit formation, where one tries to keep the chain of a daily goal unbroken for as long as possible. Since I lived 1.7mi (30 mins walk) from work, and often would take the bus in in the morning and walk home in the evening (or vice versa), I adopted this as the minimum daily goal for the chain. Some days I would go for a bike ride or other activity that would significantly exceed this goal of course.
Things went great for around 160 days. Then one day I travelled to stay with friends and simply forgot to get a walk in! I did remember as I was falling asleep, but decided to let it go and restart the chain. I started again the next day, and 365 days later, here I am!
Although I am fairly disciplined about my health, it’s taken some serious effort to maintain this chain, and I plan on keeping it going forever. So far I have not had any illness to battle against (not bad for 160+1+365 days I realized), and although “30 minutes of walking” remains the benchmark, I now live 1.1mi from work and walk both ways, so my daily norm is a bit higher. I also have recently started wearing a Garmin Vivoactive activity tracker and will probably select a certain step count as the new definition of the goal.
Have I seen any quantifiable benefit? I would have to say that I have not, as my blood numbers, weight, resting heart rate, frequency of illness, etc, were all ok before I started. Walking isn’t much of a calorie burner (approximately 130 cals for 1.7 mi, dwarfed by the 3000+ cals of a 4 hour bike ride, for example). Living in San Francisco and not owning a car meant I already was getting a fair amount of ad hoc, if inconsistent, walking done.
But I strongly believe this is an investment in long term health and longevity. I was delighted to read a report last month that “a daily walk can add seven years to your life.” I also think that as an exercise in chain-based habit formation it has been a great success, and I have since used the same method for other habits. Finally, the daily walks have also become my main podcast listening times, which itself has become an excellent new habit, hooking me on shows such as the TED Radio Hour, The Moth, and the Tim Ferriss Show.