I Tried the Apple Watch's New "Time to Walk" Feature — And It Seriously Soothed My Mind
It allows you to take virtual walks with celebs like Dolly Parton and Shawn Mendes. NBD.
This story originally appeared on Health.com by Susan Brickell.
Many famous people — from Aristotle to Beethoven to Charles Dickens to Steven Jobs — have said that they did their best thinking while walking with someone else or by themselves. I'm no scholar or classical musician (or anyone's protégé, TBH) — rather just a regular, everyday person — but I've been taking walks to clear my head, fight writer's block, solve problems, and gain new perspective for as long as I can remember.
In high school, I walked to cool down from arguments with my parents; in college, I meandered through campus waiting for inspiration to hit for essays; in my 20s, I strolled through my New York City neighborhood (lots of night walks through the East Village and Lower East Side) to decompress from work, relieve stress from student loans (if only, though!), and attempt to mentally untangle my love life; and in my 30s, I'm enjoying brisk walks with my 1-year-old rescue pup for exercise.
So when I learned that Apple Fitness+ was releasing a new feature called Time to Walk for the Apple Watch, I was understandably excited. Designed to encourage you to move, get outside, and walk more often, Time to Walk helps users reap the physical and mental benefits of walking. But what I found most intriguing was the emphasis Apple placed on storytelling, human connection, and mental health, rather than heart rate, mile time, and calories burned (although, your Apple Watch does calculate these metrics during the walk.)
First, Let's Talk About the Benefits of Walking
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, recommends adults get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both, preferably spread throughout the week. When broken down, that means your ideal goal should be 30 minutes of exercise every day. (The good news is that each episode of Apple's Time to Walk lasts 25 to 40 minutes, which helps you to meet your daily goal, if you're taking them at a brisk pace. But we'll go into more detail about the app in a bit!)
While exercise offers a ton of physical perks, walking, in particular, can help maintain a healthy weight, strengthen bones and muscles, improve your balance and coordination, and prevent or manage conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes, according to The Mayo Clinic. On top of all that, it also offers a slew of mental health benefits. Aerobic exercise, like walking, improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function, as stated in an article by Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
Why is the act of walking important to Apple? "It's the original mindfulness activity, where you get out in nature, you get some fresh air, you get the dopamine and the endorphins of activity, and you have an opportunity to not necessarily be right in front of the thing you do everyday. You look up, you look ahead, and it gives you a chance to open up your thoughts and to be inspired," Jay Blahnik, senior director of fitness technologies at Apple, tells Health. That said, the company's ultimate goal with Time to Walk is to get people walking more often — whether it's a solo experience or one with loved ones or a beloved pet. (Related: Why Taking Your Meditation Outdoors Might Be the Answer to Total-Body Zen)
And even though the newest addition is coming at such a pivotal time, you might not want to assume that the feature was inspired by COVID-19 and quarantine; Apple has actually been working on it for a long time. "All of the data globally has shown, for as long as I've been in the fitness industry, that walking is the most popular activity. Even if you take a look at gyms and clubs, the treadmill for walking is still the single biggest thing people do. We expected it to be the same when the Apple Watch came out," shares Blahnik. While it will certainly motivate people to get moving and outside during quarantine, it was designed to inspire people to walk more, in general, and reap the benefits of one of the healthiest exercises out there. (Related: Try This Walking Butt Workout Next Time You're Taking a Stroll)
What You Need to Know About the Apple Watch's Time to Walk Feature
Time to Walk is made up of episodes, in which you're invited to immerse yourself in a walk alongside unique and prominent people (yep, that means you'll be virtually hanging with some A-listers) as they share meaningful stories, photos, and music. It's not centered around coaching — like other aspects of Fitness+ — but rather inspiration. You choose your own walking speed (there won't be anyone to tell you to quicken the pace!), and focus on a mind-body connection, which can help to reduce stress, clear your head, and allow you to look at a problem or something with a different perspective, says Blahnik.
Each episode is molded by the guest's personal, life-shaping experiences, lessons learned, intimate memories, ideas on purpose and gratitude, and even humorous moments — all recorded while walking outside or in locations that hold significance or sentimental value to them. The narrative is thoughtfully paired with photos (some even from the storyteller's own collection) that appear on your Apple Watch, perfectly timed to deepen the corresponding moment and give you a further peek into their life or to show you something (like a monument in Dolly Parton's case — stay tuned for that) you might never have seen before. After the guest's stories, they introduce a short playlist of songs that inspire and motivate them. TL;DR — an influential guest offers almost like a stream-of-consciousness podcast, accompanied by photos and a soundtrack that are personally connected to the storyteller.
To enjoy Time to Walk, all you need is your Apple Watch — and if you don't have one, you should check out the Apple Watch Series 3, Apple Watch SE, or Apple Watch Series 6 — airpods or other Bluetooth headphones, and a Fitness+ subscription. (ICYDK, Fitness+ is Apple's workout streaming service that just launched in December; it integrates metrics from your Apple Watch — like heart rate, calories burned, and activity ring status — into studio-style workouts, viewable on your iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV.)
How Apple Considered Inclusion When Developing Time to Walk
Once a Time to Walk episode is selected on Apple Watch, a "walk" workout populates and begins, and listeners can go at any pace that suits them, while listening with Bluetooth headphones. Walking may be a low-impact activity that is accessible to many, it's worth noting that there are about 2.7 million wheelchair users in the United States as of 2015 — so how did Apple take into consideration those who depend upon wheelchairs for its latest launch?
If you missed it, wheelchair tracking was announced as part of watchOS 3 in 2016. Apple identified the algorithms built for everyday movement were not optimized for the very specific pushing movements you do in a wheelchair. After testing, working with experts, and talking to its wheelchair users inside and outside of the company, Apple was able to measure and determine the difference between a push at a walker's pace and a push at a runner's pace, so that wheelchair users could more accurately log their metrics in the Workout app. Those who depend on wheelchairs are able to reap the physical and mental benefits of Time to Walk, thanks to this prior update. (Related: Apple Releases Powerful Video Proving the Importance of Inclusive Fitness Tech)
What's more, Time to Walk is an audio experience, which is not ideal for those who are deaf or hard of hearing. However, Apple has still managed to think of just about everything. "We have users and subscribers that are hard of hearing or deaf, and they can also get the transcript of the walk if they are not able to hear," explains Blahnik. He points out that the company cares deeply about accessibility and is always pushing itself to do its best in terms of diversity and inclusion.
The DL On Time to Walk's Guests — Now and Going Forward
Time to Walk launches with four episodes from country music icon Dolly Parton, NBA player Draymond Green, international popstar Shawn Mendes, and Emmy Award winner Uzo Aduba. Parton takes listeners on a "walk down memory lane," as she speaks on career, family, and her upbringing in rural Tennessee; Green reflects on dealing with criticism and what you can learn from failure; Mendes discusses how a slower pace has helped him on a personal and creative level; and Aduba shares thoughts on lifelong relationships.
New episodes will appear in the Workout app on Apple Watch from a different guest every Monday through the end of April, and listeners can browse and enjoy previous Time to Walk episodes whenever it's convenient for them.
When it came down to choosing guests, Apple wanted to be sure they loved the idea of walking and the conversation that would come with it, notes Blahnik. Apple wanted varied, eclectic conversations that had rich and deep meaning and stories that came from all walks of life—so, authenticity and diversity were key. "There's a lesson in everyone's story, and we can all learn from each other. I think that's one of the great parts about diversity and inclusion, it really fosters innovation and conversation that you would otherwise not have," he adds.
What Blahnik finds really compelling is that people might not necessarily think they'll enjoy each guest, upfront — if you're not into sports, you may be unsure if you'll be able to connect with Green, or maybe you're a member of Generation Z and have no idea who Dolly Parton is. But the magic is in the diversity. "It's listening to these conversations and stories that you might not actually have or only knowing the guest from a distance, and suddenly hearing something they've been through is something you've been through, or they've actually gone through something and have great advice," says Blahnik.
My Experience with Time to Walk
Getting set up for the walk was surprisingly seamless, since the Time to Walk episodes are automatically downloaded to your Apple Watch with a Fitness+ subscription (no Wifi needed). You can simply start an episode directly from the Workout app, pop in your Bluetooth headphones, and be on your way. Being the Floridian that I am, I of course settled on Dolly Parton first — because to my southern roots, there was no other choice.
I laced up my sneakers and took to the sidewalk in my sister's Atlanta, Georgia neighborhood, where I'm visiting for the week, which was serene and quiet — unlike my New York stomping grounds, where I would usually be distracted by noise, crowds, traffic, and pulled out of my thoughts easily. However, had I been walking through Brooklyn instead, I think Parton's tone and words would have soothed me, nonetheless, despite my bustling surroundings. (Related: The Best Walking Workouts for Weight Loss, According to Fitness Experts)
The Apple Watch counted down 1, 2, 3, and Parton's light, airy voice came through my earbuds, "I think everybody loves to walk. You think good when you walk. I write a lot of songs when I walk, think about a lot of stories. And I'm gonna share them with you." Parton set the scene, and I learned that she's at home in Brentwood, Tennessee. I could hear her footsteps walking around her farm, while she spoke in a kind of stream-of-consciousness way that was natural and conversational, as if I was listening to a close friend or relative. It put me in almost a meditative state as I meandered through the neighborhood.
Parton shared three stories rooted in family and her upbringing, but my favorite anecdote was about her father. She told her dad that a statue of her was being erected in the courthouse yard of their hometown (something that was basically only done for famous presidents), and he hilariously commented, "Now, to your fans out there, you might be some sort of an idol. But to them pigeons, you ain't nothing but another outhouse." With one line, I got a glimpse into her dad's character and humor — and I could seriously not stop laughing.
But to his credit, Parton said her dad would go down to the courthouse after hours with a bucket of soapy water and a broom to scrub all the pigeon poop off of her statue, which presented a sweet moment. I had a clear image of her father — the kind of man and loving parent he was — without knowing what he looked like or anything else about him. And I could relate. He reminded me of my dad, a total clown who constantly teases my sisters and me, and yet would undoubtedly move mountains (and pigeon poop) for us.
During my Time to Walk session with Parton, my Apple Watch dinged to inform me that I had hit a mile (which flew by), and it also made a bell-like noise to alert me to lift my wrist so I wouldn't miss a photo of the monument of Parton that stands in the courthouse yard of her hometown — to further deepen an intimate moment and to show the listener something they may never have the opportunity to see IRL. (Hey, anyone want to road trip to Sevierville, Tennessee — pending negative COVID tests, of course?)
Parton ended her walk with a short playlist of three songs that were especially near and dear to heart. While I was thrilled to hear the story behind 9 To 5 (my go-to karaoke song), I loved learning that Coat of Many Colors is actually her favorite song. "It's about Mama. It's about a philosophy. It's about an attitude. It's about family. It's about acceptance. It's about so many things," she noted.
Parton's mom patched an old fall coat for her, but the kids at Parton's school made fun of her for dressing in rags and for being poor. When Parton got home in tears, her mom told her: "We're not poor. We're rich in what counts. We're rich in love and understanding and kindness." It was another heartfelt moment that I think most people can relate to — not feeling accepted by one's peers, and that love and kindness wins over all else.
My friends know this about me, but I'm not a ball-sports person. While I'll totally watch soccer and college football as a group activity (especially when wings and beer are involved), I'm not well-versed in rules, divisions, or players when it comes to basketball — I don't even remember who won the NBA championship last year (face palm). That said, I was very interested in listening to Draymond Green's session all the way through, because I love hearing stories from people who have different backgrounds and interests than me.
Green set the scene for his walk in Malibu, and the sound of waves crashing on the beach was a relaxing soundtrack. He shared that he takes a walk every couple of weeks: "It's your time to lose yourself in nature, free your thoughts, take all the great things that this world has to offer in and just breathe and kind of let everything out. All the daily stresses that we all go through, just go on your walk and kind of let them all out." Green's words and thoughts were poetic and beautiful — and, I wasn't expecting to feel so drawn in. (And now I need a Warriors jersey.)
I actually found myself able to relate to Green's account of his worst year ever. I mean, we all have one of those right? As someone who's always in the limelight, I admired his courage in getting real about a difficult time in his personal and professional life and opening himself up to criticism. "I was going through a lot on the basketball court. I was being painted as a dirty player, cheap shot guy, head case, don't know how to control my temper, all of these things. And I knew those things were so far from the truth," he said.
The negativity got in his head, tore him down, and he felt defeated. And like other people in the room, I've also been in a position where people took shots at my character—and it just consumes you. I felt like Green was speaking directly to me. He shared that he finally was able to let go after Kobe Bryant gave him some life-altering advice—to be himself unapologetically—and he's learned to tune out the noise and move forward.
As Green spoke, my Apple Watch dinged, notifying me that he had shared personal photos and it also alerted me when I closed one of my exercise rings mid-walk — although I was so hypnotized by his story, I hardly celebrated. He finished the walk with three songs — from Rick Ross, Drake, and DaBaby—which were on the other side of the music spectrum from Parton's selection, and helped motivate me to power walk the rest of the way back to my sister's house. I'd be lying if I said I didn't add them to my Apple Music account ASAP when I got back.
Music carries so much weight in Apple's Fitness+ workouts, with the bumpy playlists selected by the trainers, themselves, helping to push you through a tough sweat session. But, what makes the music choices in Time to Walk so unique is how the songs inspired the guest and the perspective the guest gives to them. "What's fun is the adventure of being exposed to music you've never heard before, or getting an opportunity to hear a song through a different lens," says Blahnik. "That's what makes the world great, that diversity of what makes a guest move and what inspires them versus what inspires you."
Before Covid, I already had a habit of walking — and even if I didn't necessarily work up a sweat while doing it, it got my heart rate up and helped me to clear my head and gain a new perspective. Taking daily walks provides me with bonding time with my pooch, a way to connect with nature, a safe way to social distance and spend time with friends, and has also boosted my confidence, self-esteem, and belief in myself (think: I just walked 10 blocks, look what I just accomplished!). (Related: Is Walking 10,000 Steps a Day Really Necessary?)
And while I enjoy solo walks, which offer me time to reflect and reconnect with myself, I know I'll continue to use Time to Walk as a way to supplement my music and podcasts on all my outdoor adventures. Plus, I'm dying to go on a walk with Shawn Mendes (what could I possibly have in common with a 22-year-old pop star?!) and Uzo Aduba, who I heard brings her fur baby along (fellow dog mom here 🙋♀️)!