Exercising wasn’t always important to Jeff Galloway—a bit of a surprise, perhaps, since he grew up to become an Olympic runner. And walking for exercise? That took even longer.
Growing up with a dad in the Navy, Galloway was the new kid in class thirteen different times before 8th grade. He was never interested in any regular sports or fitness and when he did get into running, it was actually because he was trying to avoid it.
“Well, I was an overweight, lazy kid,” Galloway tells Prevention. But the school that he eventually settled at in junior high required boys to go out for strenuous athletics. “The boys on cross country told me there was a scam where you could tell the coach you were going to run on the trails, but all you did was hide in the woods.” This worked—for about five days. But after an older boy caught him and forced him to join the runners, he quickly discovered that he didn’t need to hide out anyway: He loved running, and it would change his life in every way imaginable.
“I had all types of academic challenges at that school, and the running focused me,” he says. He went from being near last in the class to the honor roll.
Even though running gave Galloway a drive, he is the first to admit he wasn’t a natural talent. Instead, he studied the sport in the library, interviewed successful coaches and athletes, took what worked, and discarded the rest. He finally qualified for a state championship his senior year of high school but still didn’t win a college scholarship. “I just kept trying to get a little bit better each year and this unexpectedly allowed me to make the Olympic team in 1972,” he says.
It was running in the 1972 Olympics that, paradoxically, eventually led Galloway to walking.
“The clincher for walking came the year after the Olympics when I decided that I wanted to help others get into fitness,” he says. But instead of trying to get people to take up his own sport—distance running—he turned to walking. We’re not actually designed for distance running, he explains. “According to a lot of research, our ancestors did very little running. We were mostly designed in evolution to be long-distance walkers,” he says.
Training walkers became an intrinsic element of Galloway’s passion for movement, and his own walks are essential to who he is. “I walk because it makes me feel energized and more human. I walk to build endurance because that makes me feel empowered to take on life’s challenges,” he says. The meticulous studying that he began in high school established the foundations of his program today as a coach: research, experimentation, looking at data, and then adjusting the routine. (Runners and walkers can access Galloway’s live coaching sessions through his collaboration with the Charge Running app.)
A setback in the spring of 2021 only continued to fuel Galloway’s love of walking.
At 75, he suffered a heart attack. “During those initial four weeks after, doctors didn’t want me to overdo it, even when I got to the point that I could walk. Now, I understood that, but I missed it,” Galloway says. Sitting still did not deliver what he terms the “positive circuits” walking provides: a better attitude, more vitality, and personal empowerment. So, as soon as the four weeks were up, he got out and started walking.
He began with 5-to-10-minute walking sessions and built up from there. Within weeks, he was back to averaging over 12,000 steps per day and feeling as good as ever. Galloway found gratification during his running career as he incrementally beat old records and developed his endurance. That sense of satisfaction has since returned as he gradually increased his steps after the heart attack. Now, with his 10-mile walks, the exertion continues to make his brain and heart feel stronger long after he’s finished. It’s this positive feedback that keeps him motivated.
The last 40 years of walking has taught him a thing or two about getting the most out of walking, too. First, “the best warm-up is to move your feet very gently for 3-5 minutes,” he says. The body will respond well if you don’t overdo it. It’s also crucial to have a shorter stride. “I’ve seen more injuries from long walking strides than I’ve seen from running,” he says. He recommends a nice gentle stride.
Walkers can connect directly with Galloway through his website. He says he welcomes questions because in solving new problems, he expands his own knowledge.