Walking 10,000 steps per day may be a craze, but is it all it's cracked up to be? We reached out to Patricia Chaney, a freelance writer and work-from-home mom, to show what a commitment to a 30-day walking challenge could do. Here's her experience. Your results may vary. Always ask your doctor before trying a new exercise regimen. Best of luck on your own first day and all the days that come after it.
I thought I was above average: I go to group fitness classes about three days a week, and I have two kids who seem to take it as a personal insult if I sit down. I appreciate the benefits of walking. So, when I committed to walking 10,000 steps per day, I thought it would be easy.
Aside from being a nice, round number, 10,000 steps are also about five miles of walking a day. It encourages overall health and consistent physical activity to offset some of the negative effects of all that time people spend sitting. The American Heart Association and others promote walking because it's an easy activity for all fitness levels and ages.
Walking also helps reduce your risk of heart disease, obesity and many other health problems.
I learned that I sit — a lot. And I'm in good company, given that most Americans spend six to eight hours a day sitting. I had to adjust my day to make sure I sat far less.
Before starting this challenge, I figured out my average daily steps to see how much I would need to change. Most days I can reach 6,000 steps pretty easily, it turns out, but that means I had some work to do.
For some people, getting 10,000 steps may be easy. For others, going from a sedentary lifestyle to walking five miles a day can be tough. It's helpful to find your baseline of what you normally walk in a day.
When you know where you're starting, set incremental goals to reach 10,000. It's better to work your way up than to grow frustrated with a large goal and give up. Start by trying to get 4,000 steps a day for a week, and add 1,000 steps per day each week until you're doing 10,000.
This can be as simple as walking your dog an extra five or 10 minutes or parking at the back of your office parking lot and taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Adding in a brisk 10-minute walk three times a day is another great way to become more active. It also helps to set incremental goals for yourself throughout the day like I did by shooting for a certain step count by the time my kids left for school.
Finding Your Style
I decided to use a popular step counter to track my steps. The band lit up for every 2,000 steps and buzzed when I hit 10,000. The challenge of trying to get the band to light up and feel the final buzz motivated me throughout the day.
I aimed to have 2,000 steps before I sat down to work. Between getting the kids ready for school and walking to the bus stop, this was pretty easy. I also committed to taking a break every hour for five minutes or more to do something active, such as walking around the house, running in place or doing jumping jacks.
Then, I added in a 30- or 60-minute workout at some point during the day, whether it was a class at the gym, a jog around the neighborhood or 30 minutes on a treadmill. Most days I also did a short two-minute jog in place and some light stretching before bed, hitting my step goal around 9 p.m.
Reaping the Benefits
I admit that on a few days I fell short. Still, I did see noticeable benefits from making the effort and hitting the 10,000-step goal most days.
- Better sleep: Running in place in the evening helped me relax, get tired and loosen any stiffness from sitting and watching TV before bed. I fell asleep easier and slept through the night.
- Heightened awareness: Aiming for 10,000 was an eye-opener. I didn't realize how much time I spend sitting. Now that I'm aware, I take more breaks and add in modest exercises throughout my workday.
- More energy: As part of this awareness, I get up and walk when I start to crash around 2 p.m. Rather than give in to moments of tiredness, I get moving, which has increased my energy. Taking walking breaks during the day also enhanced my focus while working.
- Shared motivation: Increasing activity didn't just benefit me but my whole family. The kids and I often stayed outside after school walking or biking rather than heading inside to watch TV or play video games. We went to parks and walked nature trails. It's easy to sleep in late or be lazy, but knowing I had a step goal gave me the push needed to stay active.
My Results Are In
Taking a step challenge is an easy way for anyone of any fitness level to become more active. You may be surprised to realize how much (or how little) you get up and move during the day. You also never know what accomplishing a step goal can do for your motivation — I'm continuing to increase my step count and working my way up to running a 5k in the next 30 days. Start simple!