10 Things Not to Say to a Walker

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10 Things Not to Say to a Walker

Three Women Pause on a Walk
Three Women Talk During a Walk. RoBeDeRo/E+/Getty

If you are a walker, you've probably heard your share of irritating comments from others. Sometimes it's an outright insult with no gray area. But some common well-intentioned comments make me grit my teeth and try not to make a snarky reply.

When you see somebody walking:
- Don't assume that they want to be a runner.
- Don't assume that they aren't exercising.
- Don't assume that they are lonely and want to stop for a chat.
- Don't assume that you shouldn't also be walking.

Here are my top 10 things not to say to a walker.

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1. Have You Tried Jogging?

Runners at Alyeska Mountain Run 182292758.jpg
Runners at Alyeska Mountain Run. Brent Winebrenner/Lonely Planet Images/Getty

A lot of people (especially runners) think that walking is just a first step towards becoming a runner. They seem to assume that you'll get over that walking stuff in a few weeks and be on to the glorious life of sweating and pounding your knees into bone shards.

This comment is usually well-intentioned, but the implications are that walking isn't good enough and you need to step it up to running.

Earth to runners -- many of us walk because we love walking and don't love running.

Walkers choose walking over running for many reasons.

  • Some of us can no longer run due to an injury or health condition. Do you really want us to go into the boring, whining details? Let's both just feel good that I can, and do, walk.
  • Walking fits better into daily living. You don't need to put on a special workout outfit and take a shower immediately after you're done. You can walk to and from work, school, shopping, etc.
  • We prefer to do our panting and sweating in the privacy of our homes.
  • Walkers can better appreciate our paths and surroundings. Walkers can stop and smell the roses, appreciate the view, duck into a shop to browse the antiques, etc. without needing to pause a workout timer.
  • More: Walking is Better Than Running

Then again, some of us love both running and walking, but think each has a time and a place. We don't plan to give up walking just because we also run.

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2. Walking Isn't Really Exercise

Walking in Capris
Walking in Capris. Tobias Ackeborn/Moment Open/Getty Images

You get this comment from a couple of different kinds of people. The first is the "No pain, no gain" Type A athlete. Unless you are sweating, grunting and grimacing, it isn't exercise.

The second is the non-exerciser grasping at any excuse to not join you when you ask them along for a walk during your lunch break. And far too many of us get this comment from our couch potato spouse.

Brisk walking is excellent moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise. You can reach the level of recommended daily physical activity with brisk walks of 10 minutes or more, adding up to 30 minutes per day. That level has been shown by many studies to reduce health risks for major diseases.

Walking for exercise is strongly recommended by national health authorities worldwide. You can put in shorter sessions of vigorous-intensity exercise to reach their recommendations, but many people don't get enough. You need to do the type of exercise you enjoy so you will do it consistently. If you love the grunting and sweating, do that!

Get Up and Walk: More and more research is also pointing towards the need for all of us to get up and walk around frequently throughout the day, as sitting is being shown to be a health risk, even if you get in high intensity workouts like our athlete friends endorse. Just because you went for a run doesn't mean you shouldn't be walking more for short periods throughout the day.

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3. Do You Want a Ride?

Do You Want a Ride?
Serial killer until proven otherwise. Wendy Bumgardner © 2013

Don't assume somebody out strolling ran out of gas money and would like a ride.

From Somebody in a Vehicle: Frankly, I assume that any vehicle pulling up next to me when I'm out for a walk contains a serial killer -- until proven otherwise. I go into full alert mode. You are not likely to get a very polite response to your well-intentioned question. I am backing away so you can't grab me and getting out my cell phone to call 911. Stranger Danger Tips for Walkers

Family or Friends: If somebody is tying on their walking shoes, checking their pedometer, and putting on their iPod, get a clue. Their walk isn't about just getting from Point A to Point B, they are doing it for exercise. Is your offer of a ride a way to sabotage their efforts?

After the first, "Thanks, but I'm walking. I'll let you know next time I need a ride," learn to read the clues. Even better, how about, "Looks like you're going for a walk, can I join you?"

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4. You'll Wear Yourself Out

Exhausted Racewalker Bernard Segura
Exhausted Racewalker Bernard Segura. Mike Powell/Allsport/Getty Images

This is my mom's usual comment when I tell her what I've been up to with my walking. I know what she means is that walking as much as I do would wear HER out. I just laugh and tell her I love her.

Getting the Blood Moving: If you snark at co-workers "You'll wear yourself out," as they head out for a walking break, know that a brisk walk can help energize you rather than exhaust you. It will get your blood circulating, helping your mental faculties as well as waking you up. We should all be adding more bursts of walking throughout the day to combat the health risks of sitting too long.

It's Called Training: For long walking workouts, wearing yourself out is kind of the whole point of exercise training. Only by stressing your body do you drive it to burn excess fat, produce new muscle and build new aerobic capacity. I like walking as my method of wearing myself out. I definitely sleep better after a long walking day.

Wear and Tear: Sometimes the comment is specific -- you'll wear out your knees, you'll wear out your hips. Walking is far less stressful on the joints than running. Walking is less-impact, but not completely low-impact. You need to seek help if you develop chronic pain. But staying active walking is recommended for many health conditions, including walking with osteoarthritis.

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5. Speed Up, You're Walking Too Slow!

Women Walking
Susan Chiang/E+/Getty Images

Walkers have a variety of walking speeds and styles, some by choice, some not. The problem arises when two people have very different preferred walking speeds. Nobody wants to be nagged that they are walking too slow.

Why some walkers walk slower:

  • They like frequent stops to look at things, take photos, shop, talk to people on the street.
  • If they are overweight or less fit, the slower speed may still enough to put them into the moderate-intensity exercise zone. It's a good workout for them, but too easy for you.
  • They don't like sweating or breathing hard, they enjoy an easy stroll rather than a brisk walk. You may have to look for someone who enjoys going your faster pace.
  • They have a condition such as arthritis that makes it difficult to move faster than they already do.
  • They might like to speed up, but don't know good walking form that can help them speed up. Study our How to Walk Faster and ask your walking friend to help you practice the techniques.

If you can't easily work out your different walking speeds, you may have to seek other walking partners.

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6. Slow Down, You're Walking Too Fast!

Walking Fast
Walking Fast. Erik Isakson/Blend Images/Getty Images

To Swift Strangers: If a careless speedwalker bumped you as they darted in and out of pedestrian traffic, you are justified in giving them this verbal warning. They need to take a step back and check their walking etiquette. But if they aren't a danger to others -- who appointed you hallway monitor?

If you are just using it as a teasing comment or a conversation starter, know that it is probably irritating the walker more than amusing them. Switch to "Looking good!" or a similar positive comment.

To Your Walking Partner: If you're having a hard time keeping up with a faster walker, think twice before complaining about their speed. They may decide to simply take off and leave you behind in the dust. First be sure you know your way back to where you started.

You may want to work on your walking speed with our How to Walk Faster tutorial.

Have a heart-to-heart talk with your faster walking buddy before your next walk to set your expectations.

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7. Welcome, Runners!

Vancouver USA Marathon Starting Line
Vancouver USA Marathon Starting Line. Wendy Bumgardner ©

If you welcome walkers to register for your 5K, 10K, half-marathon or marathon event, then you need to be inclusive in your announcements and not just say "runners" and assume you've got everyone covered.

I am not a runner, I'm a walker. It's not a compliment to call me a runner. And what about your wheelchair participants? If all I hear in announcements and read on your web site says runner, runner, runner, I will seriously doubt your race is actually walker-friendly.

There are alternatives. "Racers" is a good one. "Participants" is what we usually say in volkssporting, but it has a lot of syllables.

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8. You're Almost There

Marathon Spectators
Marathon Spectators. Matthew Stein/Moment/Getty Images

This is one of the top most-hated comments according to my walking buddies who walk events such as relays, half marathons and marathons.

Unless the finish line is literally yards away, unseen around a corner, don't tell walkers and runners, "You're almost there!"

I've heard this from clueless course volunteers at one mile into a five mile course. No, I'm not almost there, I've barely started! I've heard it at mile 21 of a marathon. True, I'm getting closer, but I'm still over an hour away from the finish line!

This is not a motivating line. Please change your patter. You are not being helpful.

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9. You Sweat a Lot

Sweating the Long Distance
Sweating the Long Distance. Blend Images - Dave & Les Jacobs/Brand X Pictures/Getty

Keep your sweat comments to yourself. Many walkers said they hated getting them.

Yes, moderate-intensity exercise can get you glowing, especially on a warm day. You're getting your heart rate up and your blood moving, burning more calories. Go long enough and you're burning up stored fat. All that burning makes heat. Your body needs to get rid of excess heat. That's what sweat glands do. If they don't, you have a heat stroke.

One More Mile has a t-shirt for this one too.

Walkers can make sweating more pleasant by wearing technical fabric shirts that wick away sweat so it evaporates and cools faster. Cotton shirts are a bad idea if you are going to be sweating, as they don't release the sweat as fast.

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10. Why Don't You Just Run?

Walkers Right - Runners Left on Half Marathon
Walkers Right - Runners Left at Foot Traffic Flat Half Marathon. Wendy Bumgardner ©

The people who make this comment assume several things.

They may see walking as just a way to burn calories or get in a workout, so why not get that over and done with sooner by running rather than walking? Or go farther in the same time period and burn more calories?

Why wouldn't you want to finish a 10K, half marathon or marathon in a much shorter time?

Don't you want to beat others to the finish line?

Short answer: no.

Long answer: you asked for it.

Don't ask the question unless you to stick around to hear a full list of reasons why walking is better than running from the walker's viewpoint.

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