Kim: [00:00:00] Welcome to episode 80 of the Fitness Simplified podcast. I'm your host, Kim Schlag. On today's episode, I'm joined by Joyce Shulman. Joyce is an author, recovering lawyer, and founder and CEO of 99 Walks. She has the unique goal of getting 1 million women walking. Now, you know how I feel about getting up.
[00:00:23] Today, Joyce and I talk about intentional walking. What is it, and why should you be doing it?
[00:00:29] Let's go.
[00:00:36] Today on the Fitness Simplified podcast, I have with me, Joyce Shulman. Joyce is an author, recovering lawyer, and founder and CEO of 99 Walks, which is a unique organization with the goal of getting 1 million women walking. Joyce, welcome to the podcast.
[00:00:54] Joyce: [00:00:54] Thank you so much. I'm excited to be here.
[00:00:56] Kim: [00:00:56] Now, where are you calling me from this morning? Where are you dialing in from?
[00:01:00] Joyce: [00:01:00] I am based on the east end of Long Island, kind of in the heart of the Hamptons.
[00:01:05] Kim: [00:01:05] Nice. And what's the state of the world in your neck of the woods? Lockdowns happening? What's going on?
[00:01:11]Joyce: [00:01:11] You know, remarkably, New York -- knock on wood -- is still holding its own. The numbers are obviously going up, as they are everywhere, but we are not yet going back into lockdown. Though, certainly it could be coming, but Thanksgiving is canceled and the holidays are looking pretty sketchy, I got to say.
[00:01:33] Kim: [00:01:33] Yeah. I'm not too far from you, down here in Philadelphia, and we have a lot of things closing down -- not full lockdown like we were before, but schools are shutting down.
[00:01:42] Like, my kids' school just went fully virtual. Restaurants are shutting down, laws about coming into the state. You have to get a COVID test now. So, yeah. Lots happening on that front down here.
[00:01:55] Now Joyce, I had never heard of 99 Walks until just very recently. And I'm so intrigued by the whole concept.
[00:02:01] Can you give us a broad overview of 99 Walks? What is it and who is it for?
[00:02:06] Joyce: [00:02:06] Absolutely. So 99 Walks really grew out of something that I had been seeing -- or several things I've been seeing -- over the decade-plus that I've been working really closely with women. And those two things, which I believe on some level are related, are women in this country are suffering from a health and wellness crisis, which seems crazy to me in a sense, because we've never known as much as we do right now about health and wellness, and nutrition and we're getting less well, we're getting heavier, we're getting bigger, our incidence of preventable diseases keeps going up and yet we've never had more information about what it takes.
[00:02:50] So, when you sort of stop and think about that, it's kind of puzzling. So obviously information and knowledge, that's not where it starts and ends.
[00:03:00] And the other thing that I saw over the decade-plus is that women are suffering from a loneliness epidemic. And that was even before our current circumstance, where we're living in ways that are even more isolating than we were a year ago.
[00:03:16] So, those two pieces and then add to that that walking has always been a tremendous part of my personal practice and walking with my friends, walking while I hop on the phone with a friend at a distance, all of those things have been the ways that I have really managed my own wellness, connected with the people who are important to me, managed my stress, all of that. And about a year and a half ago, my husband, who's been my business partner now for 20 years in various ventures, and I were talking about whether or not we could bring all of the benefits of walking to a million women. And that's what started the conversation that ended up with what is now 99 Walks.
[00:04:05] Kim: [00:04:05] Interesting. Now, talk to me more about this connection between loneliness and walking and what you see with how walking helps with loneliness.
[00:04:18] Joyce: [00:04:18] So walking helps, let's start with what walking does for your mind and your mood. So there's a tremendous amount of research out there about the benefits of walking for your mind, your mood, and your body.
[00:04:30] And I'm happy to speak to any one of those ideas. But as far as connection, it does a couple of things. So walking has been shown to have a really valuable impact on boosting your mood. It's a great tool to combat depression, it's a great mood lifter, all of those things. And what tends to happen when you are feeling isolated and when you are feeling lonely, is it impacts your mood and it causes you to withdraw even more.
[00:05:02] Something I say all the time is, "when you need it, most you'll feel like doing it the least." So the simple act of the mood boost you get from walking, even on your own, can really help to drive some of that positive energy that you need to start connecting with other people.
[00:05:18] So that's piece number one, and then piece number two is the value of walking with people. And right now, as we were talking about a little bit just when we started, being together in person is not great right now, though, for many of us where our numbers aren't terrible we still can get out and take a socially-distanced walk with people we care about.
[00:05:42] And then the other option is to schedule a time, schedule a walk, and pop in your earbuds and get on the phone with somebody. And what I tell people about that is, nope, it's not as good as walking in the woods with your best friend in person. There's nothing that beats being together. That's how we're wired as people, right? But walking and talking on the phone is way better than you think it's going to be.
[00:06:11] Kim: [00:06:11] It is. Absolutely. I do it a lot. I do it a lot with friends all around the country.
[00:06:16] Joyce: [00:06:16] Have you always done that?
[00:06:17] Kim: [00:06:17] I haven't always done the walk and talk. That's a more recent thing since I started working from home online, because what I realized is I didn't have as much connection in my life in-person.
[00:06:29] So, I'm a coach and I used to coach out of my home. Women would come to me and I would meet with them one-on-one and train them. And so I had a lot of human interaction. And what I realized when I went fully online is it was me -- before my family came home because of COVID -- it was me in my house by myself all day. And, you know, I would be connecting with people via email or voice memo, but there just wasn't a whole lot of me and another person talking.
[00:06:53] And so that's when I started using my walk time to schedule time with friends, so that we can talk and walk at the same time.
[00:06:59] Joyce: [00:06:59] And it gives you that accountability, because if you have committed that you're going to walk with your friend, Beth at three o'clock, you're going to show up. Otherwise you have to cancel and nobody wants to do that.
[00:07:09] So there's that accountability, which is great. And do you find that the conversations that you have while you're walking are -- they're good, right?
[00:07:18] Kim: [00:07:18] Absolutely. You and I were talking about this before. I think it was when I was on your podcast. The idea there's this more natural cadence, right?
[00:07:25] It's not like you're sitting with somebody and you're just looking at each other, and you need to fill every second. If you're walking, it's very natural to have these normal pauses and everybody's fine. And you're with your thoughts and they're with their thoughts and you're looking around at the scenery and the conversation just can kind of flow more naturally.
[00:07:42] Joyce: [00:07:42] Absolutely. I did a Ted Talk all about why walking together is so powerful and there's some physiological elements of that, too. I'll share one, because I just think it's fascinating. And that is: when you walk with other people, your body releases oxytocin, which is the same hormone that causes women to bond with their babies, right? Everybody thinks of it as the nursing hormone, but it does drive our collaboration and our connection and our sense of being together. And interestingly it has -- at least very preliminary research suggests that it has -- a different impact on men. Where it tends to make women more collaborative, it tends to make men more competitive. Which is super interesting if you think about it in the new baby space.
[00:08:32] Kim: [00:08:32] Yeah.
[00:08:33] Joyce: [00:08:33] But what happens when you walk with your girlfriends is you are releasing oxytocin and that's driving your connection.
[00:08:43] Kim: [00:08:43] That is so interesting.
[00:08:46] You know, my mom is really passionate about walking. She has done daily five-mile walks, at least since I was a teenager, this has just been a massive part of her life. And I have so many fond memories of going on walks with her and her girlfriends, because sometimes she would have a group of five people, six people, and they would meet, and sometimes it was just my mom and my dad, but she was there usually five to six days a week, five-mile walks. And I would listen in to her and her girlfriends as they would talk and they would just solve all the world's problems. And it was just such a great space to get things done whether it's your own personal problems or just what you think should happen in the world, it's a really great way to collaborate.
[00:09:29] Joyce: [00:09:29] 100%. It pulls us away from the draw of social media and our computers and our tech and our insatiable need to multitask, though in a sense, and this is part of what started me walking with my girlfriends, is it did give me the opportunity to multitask because I got to be outside in nature, which we always need as much of that as we can get, I had the chance to connect with my friends, and I got some exercise all at the same time.
[00:09:59] So in a sense, instead of meeting a friend for a cup of coffee, let's meet for a walk, was driven out of my desire to multitask.
[00:10:08] Kim: [00:10:08] I love that. I think that's fantastic. I think that's fantastic. And that's something I encourage my clients to do, because so much of our culture is built around, "we will meet and eat," right? So much of that. And for people who are trying to lose weight, it's not so useful to do that multiple times in a week, to constantly have their activities revolve around food.
[00:10:27] And so we talk about things like, how would it feel for you to call your girlfriend and say like, "Hey, instead of meeting for lunch, how about we meet and go for a hike?" Or, "how about we meet and go for a walk?"
[00:10:36] It can feel really awkward at first if that's not the norm, but so many of my clients have really come to enjoy that aspect of their friendships now.
[00:10:45] Joyce: [00:10:45] Yeah. Most of my friends know I am not the girl to call and say, "do you want to meet for a glass of wine at nine o'clock?"
[00:10:53] I am not your girl. If you want to meet at 6:30 in the morning for a walk, sign me up.
[00:11:00] And I have kind of a personal policy that if somebody invites me for a walk or to do something active, especially outdoors, if I can -- meaning I don't have a firm commitment that precludes me from doing that -- my personal policy is I say "yes," whether I feel like it, whether it's too cold, it's too hot, whatever it is. If you ask me and I can, I will show up.
[00:11:26] Kim: [00:11:26] I love that. I love that. And it's so interesting about the too cold, too hot, I get asked this a lot because I encourage people to walk and they're like, "well, what do you do if it's cold?"
[00:11:35] And I was like, "I live in an area where it gets quite cold, so I own nice warm boots. And I own a really great coat, and I put those on." And the same thing with rain. Unless it's a bad storm with lightning, I walk in the rain. I have a raincoat and I have rain boots and I have an umbrella and I actually really like walking in the rain and I don't mind walking in the cold.
[00:11:55] Now I'm smart about it. If it's a cold winter day, I don't go out at 6:30 in the morning. I go out at 1, right? I do it at lunch. And if it's summer and it's going to be boiling hot, I do go out at 6:30 in the morning.
[00:12:06] We can come up with so many excuses about why it's not a good time to take a walk if we're looking for them.
[00:12:12] Joyce: [00:12:12] Absolutely. You know the expression, "there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing."
[00:12:16] Kim: [00:12:16] Yes, exactly. That is exactly right. It blows people's minds. When I tell them, they're like, "what should I do?" And I'm like, "uh, better clothing."
[00:12:24] It's totally true, Joyce.
[00:12:25] Joyce: [00:12:25] And the other thing about walking, especially in the cold, and I was thinking about this yesterday because I went out for about a four-mile walk yesterday and it was windy, which I hate, I don't mind the cold, but I hate the wind.
[00:12:38] But I was in an area that was fairly protected and the first 10 minutes -- and I think we just have to be really honest with everyone about this -- the first 10 minutes walking in the cold is going to suck. It's uncomfortable, your body doesn't feel good, the cold is bothering you, your nose is cold, your fingertips are cold. All of that. The first 10 minutes are not going to be great. But then the endorphins start flowing, the oxytocin starts flowing, your body warms up and there's something so invigorating and refreshing about that.
[00:13:17] Kim: [00:13:17] Yeah, 100% agree. I never regret it when I go out for a walk. I always feel so good. I feel more focused when I come back and I just have a wonderful moment.
[00:13:28] You know, I have so many, I guess I would call them little perfect moments while walking. Just little bursts of time where everything seems so in harmony. The weather, the lighting, my mood, just the energy around me.
[00:13:39] This time last year, my daughter and I, we went for a walk around our neighborhood on a Sunday afternoon and it was fall in Pennsylvania and the light, the way it was changing, and I remember we just walked and walked and walked, admiring the houses and looking at the fall decorations and, you know, talking about nothing important, but it's just seared in my memory of just this perfect, beautiful moment.
[00:14:01] And I have so many little moments like this throughout my life. Do you have a moment that you can share where you were out walking and it just felt like all was right with the world?
[00:14:10] Joyce: [00:14:10] Oh, gosh, that's such a funny question because the answer is, yeah, I have many of those moments and I could start with the moment when Eric, my husband, and I were walking in Hawaii actually, and kind of really cooked up the idea for 99 Walks. Of course, that's a special moment.
[00:14:30] But the moment that comes to mind when you kind of describe it in that way was a moment this past April, late April, when the world had shut down and we didn't know what was going on and it was very scary and everybody had kind of retreated in large part into their homes. But there's one area near where I live that's a very large parking lot that runs for a mile beside a bay beach. And it's the place where people walk all the time. And I went out for a walk and everybody I passed smiled. And this was before anybody was wearing masks, we probably should have been, but we weren't because nobody knew in April.
[00:15:12] And every single person I passed smiled and acknowledged one another. And I had this feeling of, "it's all good." And the sun was shining and the sun was glistening off the Bay and it was beautiful. And I had this moment of, "human beings are great and it's all going to be okay."
[00:15:33] Kim: [00:15:33] Oh, that's beautiful.
[00:15:34] That's beautiful. See, there's so many moments like that when I'm out walking and I just want that for people. Like, I want people to have these amazing moments and I know you do too.
[00:15:43] What is your best advice for someone who is just starting out with walking? They're hearing this and they're like, "all right, this all sounds really good, but I don't ever do that."
[00:15:51] And, you know, I've had people on the phone, when they want to become a client of mine, they're like, "look, I gotta tell you, I don't really move. I sit at my desk to work and I sit on the sofa at night and that's pretty much what I do."
[00:16:04] What is your best advice for somebody just starting out with walking or who wants to get started?
[00:16:09] Joyce: [00:16:09] There's a lot to that. One piece of advice I have is to find a supportive community and I would love for anybody who wants to start a practice to check out 99 Walks and we can talk a little bit about kind of what our community is all about and what our app offers and all of that.
[00:16:30] Because we have a lot of people in our community who started from that place. We've had people whose exact words are, "I am completely sedentary."
[00:16:41] So, the first is recognizing that and wanting to make a change. Because if you don't want to make a change, then you're not going to. So you have to want to, not necessarily because you feel like it, but because there's something that you want more. You want better health, you want to lose weight, you want to be more active, you literally want to live longer.
[00:17:06] So first you need to want to. And then the second piece of it is you just have to do it and not overthink it. The beauty of starting a walking practice is you don't have to join a gym, you don't have to commit, you don't have to tell anyone, you don't have to go anyplace special, you literally just have to lace up your shoes and walk out the door and walk to the end of your driveway and back and you took your first walk.
[00:17:35] And the third thing I would say is: avoid the compare and despair. We have a word at 99 Walks that we have banned as much as we possibly can and that's just -- J-U-S-T.
[00:17:50] So anytime anybody posts in our app or in our Facebook group, "I just walked a mile today." That's not a, "just," that's an accomplishment.
[00:18:04] Kim: [00:18:04] Yeah. It's very different to just take that word "just" out. "I walked a mile today."
[00:18:07] Joyce: [00:18:07] Yep. Exactly.
[00:18:10] Kim: [00:18:10] That's fantastic. Great advice.
[00:18:13] So tell us a little bit about your community.
[00:18:15] Joyce: [00:18:15] So 99 Walks is, at its heart, monthly walking challenges for women where we invite our members to set their own monthly walking goal. We don't dictate how far, how much, everybody sets what's right for them.
[00:18:29] And we have some guidelines. We talk about Goldilocks goals, which is a fun thing to talk about -- you and I could, I'm sure, spend 20 minutes talking about Goldilocks goals for sure. And then you use our app to track what we call "intentional walks." So we're not about step counting. I think there is some value in that for some people and, to your point, more movement is good, right? For people who have been sedentary, any additional steps and movement you can get into your day is great.
[00:19:01] But because we're so focused on the mental and emotional and physical benefits of walking, we focus on intentional walks, which is taking some measure of time and going for a walk. Because that's where you get the mental and emotional benefits, as well.
[00:19:20] And we offer tons of support and content, daily walking classes in various different styles, walking, meditations, podcasts, they're available within the app. And at the end of the month, for our members who reach their monthly walking goal -- and the vast majority of them do -- we send them what we call "wearable inspiration," which is a skinny cuff bracelet engraved with the theme of the month. So every month we are all talking about and thinking about and walking and working towards a common theme.
[00:19:56] Kim: [00:19:56] That's really such a unique set up. I don't know anything else like that. I've never heard of anything else like that.
[00:20:04] Joyce: [00:20:04] No, we're pretty unique. And it's funny because it is very unique and the kind of 360 approach that we have taken to all of this is really unique, but the truth is: our focus is so very, very simple. It's "lace up your sneakers and walk out the door because it will help you do more, be happier, and live longer."
[00:20:29] Kim: [00:20:29] Absolutely. Absolutely. Totally agree with all of that.
[00:20:33] Now, Joyce, this next question is going to seem like it's way out of left field. We're going to switch the topic here.
[00:20:37] I'm deeply involved in opening up the conversation around menopause. So many women are in the dark about what is happening with their bodies. I was, and I am on a mission to get women talking about it. Would you be willing to share with us your experience with perimenopause and menopause?
[00:20:55] Joyce: [00:20:55] Yes, I would be happy to. And I'm laughing because I can share the perimenopause and the menopause symptom that about pushed me over the edge that I did not see coming.
[00:21:09] Would you like to hear that one?
[00:21:10]Kim: [00:21:10] I absolutely would. Yes, ma'am.
[00:21:14]Joyce: [00:21:14] Sleep.
[00:21:16] So sleep is everything to me. I go to bed early, I wake up early, and I sleep great. Except for three years of my life when I didn't sleep well. I mean, it was terrible.
[00:21:33] Kim: [00:21:33] And what was going on with it?
[00:21:35] Joyce: [00:21:35] Well, that's the thing, right? Like, to an extent, I mean, I was having hot flashes and night sweats and that kind of thing.
[00:21:43] And obviously that was disruptive to my sleep, but it was just like that was the symptom in and of itself. My sleep was so disrupted. Straight up insomnia, disrupted sleep. And that was devastating for me personally.
[00:22:01] Kim: [00:22:01] And it was three years. That's a long time.
[00:22:03] Joyce: [00:22:03] Well, it was kind of off and on. So there's a little bit more to the story.
[00:22:06] So I had been on the pill all for like 20 years, right? And one day in my late forties, I looked at that pill I took every day and I thought, "you know, this can't be good for me. I've been doing this for 20 years," and I just stopped taking it.
[00:22:26] And my husband was like, "you've been doing this for 20 years. I'm on it. Now it's on me." And that's when this sleep disruption just hit me like a ton of bricks. So then a couple of months later, my best friend, who's a OB-GYN, came out to spend the weekend with us and I told him what was going on and he was like, "just go back on the pill."
[00:22:47] And I was like, "but Michael, you know I've been on it so long. I'm 47." And he's like, "just go back on the pill." He said, "you don't smoke, you're in great shape, you've got no other underlying medical conditions, just stay on until you're 50." So I went back on the pill and like, I don't know, three weeks later I was completely back to my old self and that worked great until I was 50.
[00:23:10] And then my doctor was like, "okay, now it's enough. Now it's time to stop."
[00:23:18] Kim: [00:23:18] And then that's when the sleep disruption started back?
[00:23:21] Joyce: [00:23:21] Yeah, again. Not quite as bad as the first go-round and it was off and on for a couple of years. And now I'm back to myself.
[00:23:29] Kim: [00:23:29] And did you just kind of wait it out? Did you have some kind of treatment?
[00:23:33] Joyce: [00:23:33] No, I waited it out.
[00:23:35] Kim: [00:23:35] Got it. Three years is a long time to wait it out.
[00:23:39] Joyce: [00:23:39] Well, at that point it wasn't every night. The first go-round was every night and the second go-round, it was less. And not to sound all up in my walking soap box, but the reality was that if I got a good walk, especially outside during the course of the day, I felt better and I slept better. My mood was better, more stable. All of those things.
[00:24:02] Kim: [00:24:02] I see that with myself, as well. I absolutely do. When I have days where I don't get outside to exercise, to literally move outside, I don't sleep as well.
[00:24:13] Joyce: [00:24:13] There's research that supports that. That's a real thing.
[00:24:17] Kim: [00:24:17] So I always like women that I have on to share what their fitness routine is and what their fitness goals are.
[00:24:23] Can you tell us some about what is your current fitness routine and do you have it any goals?
[00:24:27] Joyce: [00:24:27] Ah, well, yes. My goals have changed in the last couple of months. So, I walk an average of four or five times a week. Usually about three miles. Sometimes it's only two, sometimes it's more like four.
[00:24:45] But those are intentional walks where I'm putting on music, putting on a podcast, or listening to nothing and just really clearing my head. And I try to do that as often as possible, certainly four or five times a week. I'm also a CrossFitter and my husband's a competitive CrossFit athlete. So I spend a fair bit of time in the gym picking up and putting down heavy things.
[00:25:09] And I was chasing -- you talk about goals -- I was chasing a 200-pound deadlift until I really hurt my back. Not catastrophically, but it's a recurring injury that now I have decided just a week ago that I'm going to take seriously.
[00:25:27] So now my fitness goal is to repair my back and start really getting stronger from a muscle and power standpoint.
[00:25:38] But that's a journey. It's going to be a journey.
[00:25:41] Kim: [00:25:41] Absolutely. That's fantastic. Wow, that's going to have a great payoff. You know, strengthening your back and getting that situated, that's a great thing to do for yourself. Fantastic.
[00:25:52] Well, Joyce, it has been a pleasure to have you on here today. Can you tell everyone where they can find you?
[00:25:57] Joyce: [00:25:57] Absolutely. They can find me on social media, Instagram at joyce.r.shulman. They can find my book on Amazon, it's called "Walk Your Way to Better." And they can find all things 99 Walks pretty much everywhere. 99walks.fit is the website, 99 Walks is the app, and 99 Walks are all of the social channels.
[00:26:21] So we are in all of those places and anybody who wants to just sort of start dabbling and thinking about a walking practice or you need a little bit of inspiration or support, we have a really wonderful and supportive Facebook group that's open to everybody, not just our app members. So that's a group at 99 Walks on Facebook.
[00:26:43] Kim: [00:26:43] Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for being here today.
[00:26:47] Joyce: [00:26:47] Oh, it was really my pleasure.
[00:26:49] Kim: [00:26:49] Wonderful. All right, take care.
[00:26:51] Joyce: [00:26:51] Thanks!
[00:26:58] Kim: [00:26:58] Thanks so much for being here and listening in to the Fitness Simplified podcast today. I hope you found it educational, motivational, inspirational, all the kinds of -ational.
[00:27:09] If you enjoyed it, if you found value in it, it would mean so much to me if you would go ahead and leave a rating and review on whatever platform you are listening to this on. It really does help to get this podcast to other people. Thanks so much.
I'm a NASM certified personal trainer who is passionate about helping women transform their bodies through strength training and sustainable nutritional habit changes.