I Couldn’t Exercise Outside, So I Tried Paced Walking at Home – Here’s What Happened

published Oct 20, 2021
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

Before the pandemic, I loved going for long walks, and working out in nature. But when early COVID-19 concerns complicated my option of exercising outdoors, I embraced it as a challenge to try something new. I wanted something upbeat and active to complement my yoga practice, but not something so intense that I would end the day exhausted. 

That’s when I came across Google Fit’s Paced Walking feature, which highlights a simple but effective form of exercise where you walk at a specific pace customized to your current activity level and fitness goals. For instance, walking 100 steps per minute is typically considered a “brisk” pace and 130+ steps a minute would be considered vigorous exercise for many people (though you should always take your own fitness level and history into account). On days where you want to remain mildly active, you might walk at a pace of 80 to 110 steps a minute, while picking up the pace to 120+ steps a minute could satisfy a desire to log a quick cardio session. 

While the benefits of walking are widely known, paced walking in particular has much to offer. It is physically accessible for many people, doesn’t require any special equipment, and can be done anywhere, says Timothy Olds, a professor of Health Sciences at the University of South Australia. That includes walking around your home for however long you want to — yep, indoors absolutely counts as part of “anywhere!”

Pacing can also help you maintain a consistent activity rate. While “people can dip in and out of our desired performance range during normal walking,” Nicole Brûlé-Walker, a walking coach and wellbeing specialist, tells Apartment Therapy, “paced walking creates a natural pace that has more intensity which raises your heart rate to train at a more consistent level.” 

Paced walking also helps you set specific, measurable goals, such as “I will walk for 30 minutes every weekday at a pace of 110 steps a minute.” This helps you track your progress, understand patterns, and improve your performance. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Considering these benefits, I decided to try paced walking in my home for two weeks. I started at only 90 steps a minute for however long it took for me to feel tired, a pace that was active enough to keep me engaged but mellow enough to let me zone out and relax. The best part? I didn’t even have to keep count. At first, I used Google Fit’s free paced walking beats feature, but you can use anything to help keep a pace, from music to YouTube videos. A quick search pulls up dozens of videos for different speeds for covering a set number of steps.

Since I was practicing paced walking right in my house, it was something of a meditative experience for me. I could just close my eyes, follow the beats and totally chill out. I didn’t have to worry about reps or form — or about looking both ways before crossing the street. I just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and before I knew it, my workout for the day was done. At first, it felt awkward to walk around my own house, but I was enjoying the process so much, I soon forgot about it. I put on my favorite music, vibed to the beats, and entered a state of flow. 

As I grew used to the rhythm and practice of paced walking, I increased my pace to 110 steps a minute. Suddenly, I was more focused on the faster beats that left me with no time to let my mind wander. It helped me stay present in the moment, and soon, I decided to start walking for 45 minutes at the same pace. This helped me become familiar with the rhythm while slowly increasing my endurance. “Finding a pace that feels right and gradually adding more time is one of the best strategies to make the most out of paced walking,” Brûlé-Walker says. 

Though you can certainly walk indoors as I did, Olds recommended mixing things up and walking outdoors “when possible.” This can offer a sense of variety and a quick change of environment when you’re tired of seeing the same four walls of your room daily.  

And while paced walking is an easy, effective, and affordable form of exercise, it comes with its own challenges. I found that it was tempting to over-exert myself by setting a pace that’s too fast or allowing myself to get bored with a  slow pace. I also realized that I was trying to “make up” for time spent away from the gym by aiming too big and going too fast, which exhausted me. If I did this, I would start resenting the workout; each time, it took me a few days to realize I was being over-ambitious in my practice. 

This doesn’t have to be a competition. Speed isn’t the key here, experts say. “It’s important to stay where you’re comfortable and build up slowly if you are starting exercise for the first time or have underlying health concerns,” Brûlé-Walker says. 

At the end of the day, paced walking gave me a way to work out right in my bedroom at any time of the day — even while on a call with a client. I could customize it, up the intensity, or make it more restorative to suit what my body needed that day. 

Most importantly, it changed how I feel about fitness. I let go of the rigid ideas of what “exercise” should look like and embraced intuitive movement. Earlier, I used to think only cardio or intense gym workouts count as “proper” fitness, but something as simple and natural as walking in my own house made me rethink what it truly means to move with your body rather than force it to exercise.