You may have heard the U.S. Surgeon General’s recommendation to take at least 10,000 steps a day, which adds up to about five miles. If you were asked today, would you know how many steps you’ve taken? Many people have no idea, but over the course of a typical day—without making an effort to move more, or dedicating time to exercise—most people take just 1,000 to 3,000 steps. Getting closer to that 10,000 steps a day goal is one of the easiest and most effective ways to improve your health.
Why Walking More Matters
Studies show that people who take at least 10,000 steps a day enjoy a myriad of health benefits. Walking is an effective form of aerobic activity that helps prevent diseases like cancer and heart-related health conditions. In a study in the journal Diabetes Care, for example, researchers found that when a group of overweight volunteers remained stationary for seven hours, blood sugar spiked and insulin levels became erratic. But participants who took a break from sitting to stand, walk or jog for two minutes each hour enjoyed stable blood sugar levels, which researchers suggest could lower their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Walking engages your muscles, improving tone, and helps build bone density. It may even help prevent arthritis: In an Australian study of women in their seventies, those who walked regularly were less likely to develop the disease, which researchers suspect may be due to walking’s ability to keep joints limber.
As if that isn’t enough, walking also contributes to your overall health by increasing your daily calorie burn, which can help you maintain or lose weight. Walking can also boost your energy levels by promoting circulation; and, according to research in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, improves mental clarity by enhancing the connectivity of brain circuits.
How to Test Yourself
The easiest way to assess how much you’re walking over the course of a day is to purchase a pedometer (find one at a sporting goods store). Clip it on and see what your tally is after a typical day. This is your starting point. There is also a growing number of “movement trackers” on the market. These devices not only track the number of steps you take but also the flights of stairs you’ve climbed, the total calories you’ve burned and some even track amount and quality of sleep. A few examples include Fitbit, Nike FuelBand and UP by Jawbone.
In a study by researchers at Stanford University, people who tracked themselves with pedometers increased their average number of steps by 27 percent, or about a mile more each day. Another mile a day just from being more aware of the number of steps they took! Walking one more mile a day will burn an extra 110 calories per day, which will burn 11 pounds of fat over the course of a year. Over the course of 18 weeks, the study’s subjects also lost a few pounds on average and improved their blood pressure enough to lower their risk for stroke and heart disease.
Experts attribute those kinds of health benefits to the personal feedback a pedometer provides. You may notice that some days of the week you walk more (like on the weekends, or when you go outside for lunch, for example), but simply being aware of your patterns and how you can move more can be motivating.
Taking More Steps
Once you know how many steps you take in an average day, you can assess how much more active you need to be. If you’re currently not even close to taking 10,000 daily steps, that’s OK. Making the change will be a commitment, but the health payoff is tremendous. Here are some tips to increase your count:
- Every little bit counts: Try parking a bit further away from the grocery store, getting up to speak to a colleague instead of using the phone or email, and getting off the bus one stop earlier than you normally would and walking the rest of the way. There’s a reason you’ve heard this advice before: it works.
- Make downtime work for you: Putter around the house during commercial breaks, or pace while you talk on the phone. These little changes to your routine will add up.
- Wear comfortable shoes: Be ready and able to walk whenever the opportunity arises. A study done at LaCrosse University in Wisconsin found that office workers who wore flats instead of high heels to work took an average of 493 more steps a day.
If you’re not very active, know that you can build up to 10,000 steps gradually. If you currently average 2,000 steps a day, for example, try for 2,500 each day for a week. Then, the next week increase your goal to 3,000 each day, and so on.
You’re familiar with the saying, “Every journey begins with a single step.” In this case, we mean it literally. Follow these simple tips and you’ll reach your goal of 10,000 before you know it.