Walk, Don’t Run :: You Can Improve Your Health Without Running


Running is cool, mamas, in case you didn’t know. Everyone who’s anyone has a 13.1 (or better yet, 26.2) bumper sticker on their minivan. For the non-runners, those are the distances (yes, in miles!) of a half and full marathon, respectively. You’re welcome. Everyone knows you need a fancy Apple watch to track your running distances via GPS, and you’ve gotta have a double BOB stroller to push your kids around while you run every morning at 5:30am (goodness knows they’re awake by then). And by all means, don’t forget the cool gear. Lululemon here I come.

I am a college professor with a bunch of degrees in exercise science, and I have a confession to make: I hate running. My graduate school friends are triathletes and marathoners and former Olympians, which is awesome and impressive. I am none of those things. Just to be clear, running really is a wonderful sport, and I have all the respect for people who love to do it and who can put one of those bumper stickers on their van. I even own a double BOB stroller, but that’s because it’s the only stroller I know of that can handle Birmingham’s hills AND all three of my kids. If you like running, by all means, carry on. It’s a great sport and great for health, so please don’t hear me discouraging you from running (or swimming, biking, and so on). I’m just saying that if running is not your thing, there are alternatives (hallelujah).

While running isn’t my jam, one thing I am passionate about is promoting health to real people in simple ways that can be easily understoond and actually implemented. So, I want to introduce you to my favorite form of exercise. It’s the most popular exercise in the world, it is popular among women in particular, and it is generally safe for women who are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, wishing they weren’t pregnant, or have ever been pregnant (that’s code for ‘great for moms, and everyone else!’). It’s not a gimmick, and it doesn’t cost anything to do. This amazing exercise is walking, moms, and it’s really good for your health!

I have another confession to make: I am a nerd. A big science nerd. I love data, numbers, understanding where information comes from, and thinking up new questions and figuring out the best way to answer those questions. My science hero is a woman who studies walking (told you I’m a nerd). Yes, it’s as simple as it sounds, but that is why I love this topic so much.  I’m going to share her simple mnemonic device for increasing walking. I hope that if nothing else, I’ll convince you to think about how much and how often you are being active.

Have you ever screamed at kindly told your child(ren) to walk, not run?! Maybe it’s just me. But consider this permission to tell yourself to walk, not run. If you hate running, don’t bother. Walk instead. 


This fun mnemonic has three F’s, and the first is FREQUENTLY. As in walk more often. Or another way to think about it: don’t sit all day! Get up and move around every so often, whether it is to walk a few laps around your desk at work or to push the stroller around the block. The physical activity recommendation for American adults is 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic exercise; walking counts. So what this means is that five days of the week you should be getting 30 minutes of physical activity. This could be on the elliptical or treadmill at the gym, or on a run, but it could also be a brisk walk. And it doesn’t have to be 30 minutes all at once; instead, it can be three bouts of 10 minutes. So if you only have time for a short walk, it still counts. You can do this!


The easiest way to think about walking FARTHER is to think about taking more steps. It is recommended that Americans accumulate 10,000 steps per day. For the average person, around 2,000 steps is equivalent to a mile, so this means you should walk about five (yes, five!) miles a day. That can sound overwhelming to many people (myself included), but you’d be surprised how quickly it can happen.

Devices that measure physical activity are quite popular, and they have a variety of strengths and weaknesses. If you are interested in tracking steps, or any type of exercise/physical activity, there are LOTS of options. I personally am a fan of the simpler ones. If you are a competitive athlete, most of these are too simplistic for you, and you’ll want something with more bells and whistles (GPS tracking and so forth). But if you want to figure out how many steps per day you are taking, you’re in luck, because this is easy and cheap to do.

Budget-friendly activity trackers

Omron is a well known brand in the world of physical activity, and their simple pedometer (which is just a device that tracks steps) is less than $15 as of the time I write this post. The Yamax Digiwalker pedometer is slightly more expensive, but it has been extensively studied in research of step counting and has, generally speaking, been found to be quite accurate. Both of these are hip worn devices, however, so if you prefer something wrist-worn, I recommend the next category of trackers (see below), which cost a bit more but are easier to wear and can be linked to your phone or computer.

Middle-of-the-road activity trackers

The FitBit Zip and the Garmin vivofit are mid-range devices that have both been found to be quite accurate for measurement of step counts (see here and here for citations). They are not as good at estimating distance walked, so if you are really interested in tracking accurate mileage, a device that utilizes GPS is probably your best bet. The vivofit is a wristband device while the Zip clips on to your waistband. The other big difference is that the vivofit has a long-lasting battery that doesn’t need charging while the Zip has to be recharged every couple of weeks. The Huawei Band 2 Pro is a popular newer device that features water resistance, sleep and activity monitoring, and a long-lasting battery (advertised as 21 days by the manufacturer).

Budget-busting (but awesome) activity trackers

FitBit now makes two smart watches: the Versa and the Ionic. The major difference is that the Ionic has built-in GPS while the Versa does not. Both can store and play music and can monitor heart rate continuously.  Perhaps the most well known physical activity tracker these days is the Apple watch, because this device has GPS, records heart rate, can receive text messages, play music, and much, much more. Prices start at $399, so it’s a major investment.


This has to do with the intensity of walking. Not surprisingly, faster walking has more health benefits than walking slowly. This doesn’t mean that walking slowly has no benefits, but it is important to realize that higher intensity is generally better. So pick up the pace, Mom. If you do, you may actually find yourself to be an Olympian. No really, did you know that race walking is an Olympic sport?! It is hilariously amazing. Seriously. The women’s world record holder in the 10,000 meter race walking event finished the event (approximately 6.2 miles) in just under 42 minutes. That’s approximately a 6:48 mile, and she was WALKING. Incredible.

Everyone can walk!

Everyone can walk. Yes, I know that not all people have use of their lower extremities, and that means “walking” may look different for people with certain disabilities, injuries, or physical challenges. Birmingham’s own NCHPAD (National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability), located at the incredible Lakeshore Foundation on Lakeshore Drive in Homewood, has a marketing campaign to re-brand the way the public thinks about walking. This video is inspiring and powerful. Watch it, and remember, everyone can walk!

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Mallory grew up in Oklahoma, met her husband Dave in college there, and they have lived in Maryland, Michigan, and now Alabama since getting married in 2008. She graduated from Michigan State University with a PhD in exercise physiology in 2014, and her family then moved to Birmingham so she could start a job as a college professor. She is mom to five great kids ages nine and under, and considers it a tremendous joy to get to invest in the lives of both her kids and her students. In her free time, Mallory enjoys family walks around the neighborhood, reading to her kids, bargain hunting, home improvement projects, and being involved in the children’s and missions ministries at her church.