Last January, in episode 252 of the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, Elizabeth and I issued a challenge to ourselves and our listeners: to walk for 20 minutes every day in 2020.
We chose this challenge because one of the most straightforward, manageable things that just about anyone can do is to walk 20 minutes each day.
Elizabeth and I loved the idea of a “20 in 2020” challenge, and so did many listeners.
Of course, when we chose that challenge, we didn’t realize that the coronavirus would hit.
We’ve heard from so many people that the daily twenty-minute walk has been a crucial habit for helping them to stay calm, grounded, and healthy during the fear and anxiety of this time.
We’ve also heard about happy dogs, spouses who joined in, “stacks” of audio-books and podcasts enjoyed, better sleep, weight loss, less need for medication, visits to interesting new places, times of welcome solitude away from a busy household…people have found so many different benefits in this simple practice.
Because we got such a boost reading about these wonderful accomplishments, we asked you to share your #Walk20in20 success stories.
We received so many wonderful responses! Here’s a small selection of our favorites:
- Corrinne: Before this year, I never exercised regularly—I didn’t enjoy it and no one held me accountable (you guessed it, Obliger here!). The combination of #walk20in20 and pandemic made the daily habit stick. And I use a tracker from the Happier in Hollywood Facebook Group to visually see my chain.
- Linda: I have been a “walker” for about 35 years (yikes!). This year, like most things, walking took on another new meaning. During this pandemic I have been visiting my mom (who is 90 and lives alone) every other day. I haven’t been in her house to keep her extra safe. Everything we do is outside…one of those things is walking. There is a wooded area nearby. We started walking there in March ( I took lots of photos of spring wildflowers and we watched the forest come alive). We changed our route in the summer because of ticks, and now we’re back again. I’m grateful for the time we’ve spent together on these walks. She is an artist and nature lover, and we’ve had many good conversations about so many different things. I still enjoy my daily walks wherever they take me, but will always treasure the walks in the woods with my mom. That has been the silver lining.
- Liz: I live in the foothills of the Catskills Mountains, and back in May, my neighbor who was starting to move forward with her divorce asked if I wanted to start walking with her in the morning. Being an Obliger, I agreed to walk at 7:00 am every morning with her and her dog. I could use the exercise and built stamina because my daughter was expecting our first grandchild In November. (also check off “walk more” on my “20 for 20” list) This invitation was exactly what I needed—we hadn’t missed one day until the end of May.
Along came June, when we learned the devastating news that another neighbor’s eldest son passed away suddenly. We asked her if she wanted to join us in our morning walks—and so we became three. We talked, laughed, and sometimes cried about everything and anything. We have learned a lot about each other in these two mile walks. We have even learned our Tendencies.
The three of us have walked in awesome weather and some not so great weather. We have discovered and really appreciate, what a beautiful place our mountain neighborhood is and the people that live next to us in these early morning walks. We haven’t missed a day.
I can’t express how much I have enjoyed these walks. If someone had told me that we would still be walking well into November, I wouldn’t have believed them and also how close the three of us would become. Walking our way through this crazy year of 2020, we have experienced the highest highs and the lowest lows and we will emerge stronger mentally and physically entering 2021.
- Ron: While I didn’t “walk” 20 in ’20, I cycled, most days in fact, and I continue that indoors with the cooler weather in the Great White North that is Canada! The impact on positive thoughts has been outstanding. I have come to understand the benefits of physical exercise over the past several years, but with COVID-19 this year, it has become all the more important.
On those days when I couldn’t seem to make sense of what was happening, in the world, at work, at home, I would hop on my bike, and ride for 1 or 2 hours, ideally outside, especially over the summer. I always came back from that effort refreshed, with a renewed outlook. It has gotten me through this challenging year! And on a bigger scale, I am healthier, and have a much improved perspective on what is truly important.
- Kezi: I honestly can’t believe what a difference the walking for 20 minutes in the year 2020 has made in my life. It sounds like an exaggeration but it isn’t. I started this year with the simple goal of walking for 20 minutes. After feeling the small (but powerful) success of accomplishing walking everyday things started snowballing. I decided to start running in May even though I have no experience with running. In fact running brings up painful memories of being the slowest person in middle school to complete the mile. But I decided if I can keep my walking goal I can reach a little higher.
To make a long story short, on the 21st of this month I will running my first half marathon with dreams of running a full marathon next fall! I just completed nine miles on Saturday and I’m still SHOCKED that it all started with walking for 20 minutes. This has rippled into other parts of my life. Now that I’ve got my eye on a marathon I’ve started changing what I eat, and as a fellow diabetic (shout out to Liz!) this has been a game changer. I tell myself everyday in my mission statement “small and simple things great things are brought to pass” and it has been manifested in the small act of walking.
- Florencia: #Walk20in20 helped me tremendously during this global pandemic. My husband and I found out we were expecting our second baby right as COVID-19 was starting to spread, and the lockdowns started. As a pediatrician, I continued to work throughout the pandemic seeing patients every day, which you can imagine was anxiety-provoking, especially in the beginning when we knew so little about it.
Getting outside and walking 20 minutes every day in our neighborhood not only helped me maintain a healthy pregnancy, but it also helped me concentrate on actionable items every day and focus on what I could do that day. Today I’m going to walk 20 minutes, wear a mask, wash my hands, and maintain a 6-feet distance from others. Tomorrow I’m going to do it again and try my best. Walking, along with this mindset, helped me get through my pregnancy healthy and with less stress! Now on the other side of pregnancy, my baby, toddler, husband, and I continue to go on our family walks. It’s been a great way to reduce stress and get great physical activity.
- Brandy: I turned 50 this year and I was looking for a way to make my birthday meaningful. Walking is a great way for me to work things out in my head and get inspiration. I love the Walk 20in20. On either the Happier or Happier in Hollywood podcast, I heard a listener reference a virtual walk challenge, which I explored online. Three months before my birthday, I signed up for the Conqueror Challenge through My Virtual Mission to walk the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. I ended up completing the 480 milk pilgrimage the day before my 50th birthday. I got in even more than 20 minutes a day! Even though I was walking around my neighborhood, it did turn out to be a beautiful pilgrimage. I reflected on the past 50 years of my life and thought about the person I wanted to be from here on out.
- Rachel: I love walking and I tried to walk as often as possible but with a 30 minute plus commute, it was challenging during the week.
When the shutdown happened in mid-March (in Portland, OR), I sheltered in place with my husband, our 2 1/2 year old, and 1 year old in a townhouse with no outside space. Walking became my happy spot. It was where I could take the kids when they were bouncing off the walls, it was where I could take a breath during the endless Zoom meetings work had become. It was where I could finally be by myself. Thankfully, we’ve moved since then, into a house with a beautiful yard for my kids to play in but I am still walking multiple times a day, exploring my new neighborhood and still getting those steps in.
I am in the best shape of my life and am passing my love of walking to my now 19-month old, who loves going on walks with me.
- Franzi: I didn’t complete every day but a lot of days. I even bought a step-counter (don’t want to take my phone everywhere I go) and one of the goals for my 21in21 list is to take 10.000 steps everyday.
What I realized just last week as I came home from my walk (a walk during lunch break in a park near my work) is that I never experienced the change of the seasons as much as I have done it this year. This makes me so happy because I sometimes got the feeling of missing out a season or not appreciating it as much as I want. Not this year. My everyday walks had helped me be more mindful.
- Tracy: Last year when you announced the #walk20in20 challenge, I decided to join in and make it a part of my 2020 Happiness Project. My goal at the first of the year was to move at least 20 minutes each day. That was to be done through walking most days, but I allowed myself one day a week to do some yoga stretches instead.
Little did I know how much this decision would change my life.
Well, January 1st came and my husband (who had Stage 4 esophageal cancer) was in the hospital. I knew if I did not start that day, I would never start. So I went out and took walks in the hallways, across the street at the park, and even put my headphones on and did exercises in the room when I didn’t feel like I could leave him. I quickly learned that the walking helped me deal with the stress of all that was going on, so when he was hospitalized again at the end of January, I was thankful for the habit and was able to continue walking each day.
At the end of February, we learned that there was nothing else that could be done and the doctor recommended stopping his treatments. In March, I decided to “up my game” and try to get at least 8,000 steps a day. So since March, I have walked every single day. Then came the pandemic that shut everything down and put an end to all my traveling that I normally did. My husband was kind of happy about that because it meant I wasn’t dragging him all over the state anymore, but it was hard for me not to be able to work. Taking walks throughout the day helped me so much with the stress. People around town started commenting to me about all the walking they saw me doing and it gave me the chance to share your podcast and the challenge with others.
During the summer, my husband’s health started really declining. He told me that he didn’t want me to lose all the progress I had made in taking care of myself over the last few months, and I promised him I wouldn’t stop when he was gone. At the end of July, he started on hospice care and August 18th, he passed away. My daughters stayed with me those first few days, and they made sure I got out and walked everyday and even now, I am continuing to walk every day. My goal is 10,000 plus steps at least five days per week.
I am excited to continue this journey into 2021 and so thankful that I started. I think this year would have been so much harder without the walking, and I would be in a much darker place right now.
- Diane: When the pandemic hit us in mid March, my husband instigated our new habit: To have a daily “date,” where we go on a walk together every single day. Each morning, we compared our calendar and picked a time that worked for us both to get out. This would mean, even if I’d done my exercise Zoom class, or had a walk planned with a girlfriend, I would also still do my walking date with my husband, a double win. My favorite number is 3, so my goal has been to walk 3 miles every day this year. (When I have my phone with me, that’s how I get “credit,” so I’m actually walking more.) My goal at year-end is to reach 1,200 miles.
- @berlzipan: Since Covid-19, two friends and I have a 3:15 conference call in which we walk and talk Monday-Friday. We have a question of the day that we take turns presenting and a daily covid news update. We’re happier, healthier and more connected, and we don’t plan on stopping!
- Brooke: I have walked outside every single day. I live in Massachusetts, so I’ve walked in snow, rain, and heat. I have loved seeing my neighborhood transition from winter to spring to summer and now to fall. My husband or kids come along pretty frequently, and it has been a great way to connect, even though we’re all together all of the time. Walking has been an anchor in my days, even when everything else was uncertain and in upheaval.
- Courtney: I started at the beginning of the year and, other than really bad weather, pretty much kept it up and made it daily habit.
When my husband discovered he had a recurrence of his colon cancer in May, the doctors felt walking would be key to his recovery from liver surgery and also during his chemo treatments. We’ve been walking daily since then, sometimes only 5 minutes at a time, but getting it done. The doctors feel this has been part of his successful treatment.
To add to our incentive, we’ve been using the Yes.Fit website to do virtual walks. We just finished the Top Gun one this week. It’s fun to get the medals in the mail and to hang them in our bedroom as a visual reminder of how far we’ve come.
- Stephanie: The most surprising thing for me that has happened during the pandemic is finding out that a daily walk has done more for my physical health than years of going to the gym ever did.
I found a nice steep hill close to my home and I gradually worked up to walking up and down it 10 times while I listen to podcasts (Happier is the perfect amount of time) or an audio book. It gets my heart rate up and has been very good for strength training.
- Lynne: The time I’ve spent walking and hiking with my daughter have been the greatest gift. She’s a senior in high school and we’ve had amazing conversations while walking on trails. They’ve run the gamut from deep philosophical conversations, to brainstorming, to silly playful conversations that we’ll both remember years from now. Somehow the act of walking along trails created a sacred space for the two of us to bond in a new way as my daughter grows older. It’s been magical and a benefit for which I’m deeply grateful.
It’s thrilling and encouraging to hear all the benefits that can flow from such a simple habit—some benefits that we might expect, and others that we might foresee.
It’s also a good reminder that it’s helpful to put healthy habits in place when things are going pretty well, because then they can strengthen you when life become difficult.
The key is to keep going in 2021! The end of the year isn’t a finish line, it’s a milestone! 2020 is just the first year of the many years in which to walk for 20 minutes every day.
Some listeners mentioned the Four Tendencies. If you don’t know if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel, you can take the quick, free quiz here. More than 3.2 million people have taken the quiz.
And remember: if you didn’t #Walk20in20, don’t feel discouraged. Now is always the right time to begin. (If you hear me discuss one of my favorite aphorism, one that illustrates this principle, listen to my “Little Happier: What’s the Best Time to Plant a Tree?“)