You may have heard that 10,000 steps should be your walking goal. In this article, I investigate the pros and cons of taking 10,000 steps each day and how you should get more activity each day.
Where did the 10,000 step number come from?
According to health.com this was mostly a marketing tactic when a pedometer was created in Japan in 1964. It doesn’t really have a basis in creating better health. Activity trackers like Fitbits have more recently popularized the 10,000 step idea by using 10,000 steps as the default goal.
But the 10,000 step goal might not be right for everyone. If you have been sedentary, then suddenly trying to get 10,000 steps might result in injury or fatigue. I explain how to ramp up to 10,000 steps at the end of the article.
If you are already very active then the goal of 10,000 steps might be too easy and you should look at other ways of improving your fitness. You could keep this as a daily goal to help maintain fitness.
What does it take to walk 10,000 steps each day?
I used to work in a busy community recreation centre. While working there, I found it easy to get 10,000 steps every day. Once I started working from home, I started to realize what it actually takes to get 10,000 steps.
It takes about 70 to 100 minutes to walk 10,000 steps. This is the equivalent of walking 5 miles or about 8 km. Of course, all your little movements throughout the day count towards this – walking to the refrigerator, unloading the dishwasher, or putting clothes away. I typically get around 4000 steps just walking around the house, but it helps that my office is in the basement.
I find that I need to supplement my daily activity with about 45 minutes to an hour of dedicated walking to get enough steps to reach 10,000. My pace is quicker when I run, so a 30 to 40 minute run is usually enough.
Of course, you can increase the steps you walk by parking further from the store entrance, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or even getting up and walking around every hour.
I’m writing this in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve found that grocery store trips are adding to my step count more than usual because of the one way aisles. I tend to do about 3 trips around the grocery store now before I find everything I need.
What is the benefit of walking 10,000 steps a day?
Adding some walking has many benefits if you are currently sedentary or if you add this to another form of exercise. I’ve discussed the benefits of walking in this article, but here is a brief summary of the benefits of walking in general:
- Weight loss – adding any type of activity will help with weight loss. Don’t expect rapid weight loss from walking 10 000 steps a day, but you will likely see some.
- Lowers stress – especially if you walk in nature, walking helps to reduce stress
- Lowers blood pressure
- Improves sleep
- Improves balance
- Maintains bone density
- Maintain independence
How to track your steps?
If you are serious about increasing your activity then tracking your steps is a good way to do it. You can use an activity tracker like a Fitbit or a Garmin. You can also use your phone, but you have to make sure you are carrying it with you all the time.
An old style pedometer will also work but these are not nearly as accurate as the newer electronic watches or even your phone.
Perhaps you don’t want to worry about counting steps and just want to go by the time you spend walking. This is completely valid, but it won’t take daily activity into account. On the other hand, people who tracked steps enjoyed their walks less than people who didn’t track. You could just make it a habit of going for a 30 minute walk every day.
How to ramp up your step output
Using your step tracking or time tracking method see what an average day is for you. You can increase that goal by about 1000 each week until to reach 10,000. If you are starting pretty low you might want to only increase by 500 each week.
This means if you are starting at about 3000 steps per day, next week try for 3500 to 4000 steps per day. If you hit this goal and it feels good add 500 to 1000 steps to the goal for the following week.
You can also try an activity tracker that calculates your daily goal for you based on what you have been doing. (I know that Garmin activity trackers do this by default)
If at any point you feel pain or extra fatigue, then you will want to back off and take a rest day. Don’t try to push through pain – that is likely to make things worse. If it doesn’t go away in a few days, then check with your physician or a physiotherapist.
You can do one long walk or several shorter ones. Both ways can be effective for improving your fitness.
Other ways to improve your walking fitness
If you already walk a lot, then you can still improve your fitness with walking. Here are a few ideas:
- Try to complete a known route faster than you normally do
- Add some hills to your route for a challenge
- Start a run walk plan
- Add some other type of exercise to your fitness program
- Use your fitness tracker to remind you to move
10 000 steps is not a magic number. It may be too much for some women and not enough for others. It will take some commitment to achieve and maintain 10 000 steps. If walking is hard for you or not enjoyable, there are many other different ways to stay active. Check out the Healthy Changes ebook for ways to keep yourself healthy during menopause.