I’m one of those people who really loves a good walk. I spent most of my adult life in Manhattan, where I walked everywhere. Now, as a travel writer, I find that walking around is really the best way to get to know the ins and outs of a new place. So when I was asked to take on an assignment where I had to walk before every meal for a month, I immediately agreed, feeling a bit smug about how easy it was going to be.
Before I started the experiment, though, I wanted to see if there was anything else in this for me besides a pay check. According to research from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, walking just 30 minutes a day can significantly decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and depression—even when it’s broken down into shorter intervals. And University of Tennessee research found that the more steps you take, the more likely you are to be at a healthy weight.
The science is less straightforward when it comes to walking before meals specifically, says Angel Planells, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, but it’s promising. “Studies that look at how appetite and weight are affected by pre-meal activity are split. I’ve found that holds true with my clients, too. Some overeat after moving around, while others become less hungry and may lose weight. It really depends on the person.”
Challenge accepted. Here’s how my month of pre-meal walking went.
My schedule took a hit—though not as bad as I expected.
Before the walking experiment started, I’d gotten into the habit of working out first thing in the morning. Adding walking to the equation, though, meant that I had to wake up even earlier so I’d have enough time to walk to and from the gym. I had to tweak my lunchtime routine, too. Before starting this assignment, I would usually take a walk after lunch, as moving around always helped me lose that groggy over-stuffed lunch feeling. But I changed things up and started walking before lunch, instead. Happily, shifting things around was surprisingly easy.
I actually started to crave veggies.
I was shocked that walking before I ate didn’t make me hungrier. It actually helped satiate my appetite, even just the short, 10-minute walks I usually took. I don’t know if it was the endorphins or what, but it also put me in a healthy state of mind, making me more inclined to reach for a salad or a piece of chicken with vegetables.
Despite initial kid reluctance, it became a fun family activity.
Figuring out how to fit in a walk before dinner wasn’t easy. I’m usually running around like crazy between my kids’ various sporting activities and trying to squeeze in cooking dinners I wouldn’t feel guilty about, so adding one more thing to the mix seemed more than a little daunting. Plus, the kids are always starving once they get home, so going out for a walk was the last thing they wanted to do. But in a moment of mom-inspiration, I decided to make it into a game: Every time my boys and I went out for a little pre-dinner walk, I’d let them select the route around our neighbourhood—no matter how windy or odd it might be. Then we’d test each other to see if we knew any kids from school who lived along the way. Bonus: We’d often see neighbours and fellow walkers while we were out, which made me feel more like a part of my community. Our pre-dinner walk soon became a much-anticipated event in my home.
It didn’t impact my weight.
While I rarely missed a walk, the number on my scale didn’t change. But that didn’t really surprise me. I had started a healthy regimen a year earlier, giving up booze, limiting my refined carbs, and working out regularly, so I felt like I was in a pretty good place, health- and weight-wise. Also, since I knew I’d be taking three daily walks, I wound up taking fewer steps throughout the day—like walking less and taking the subway more when I was in Manhattan—which couldn’t have helped with the weight loss.
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But to be honest, I didn’t say yes to this assignment to lose weight. I saw it as a way to get more fresh air and get the kids into walking—and I succeeded on both counts. It also made me determined to make it a habit to start walking more with my boys; I want to instil in them a love for walking, just like mine. I’m happy to say that we’re still walking at night when we can, though I’ve got to admit that it’s often after dinner.
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This article originally appeared on Prevention.
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