My husband gave me a Fitbit for Christmas 2017. I suspect he was weary of listening to me whine about becoming sedentary and brag about how much walking I used to do.
The first week was pure hell due to a head-on collision with just how sedentary I had become. Turned out, it wasn’t just whining. The number of steps was pitiful (2500???? Seriously???) and it was painfully obvious I couldn’t just jump back into my (formerly) customary hour-long walk every day. My daily walk plus working from home (every phone meeting was a walk-and-talk around the house) and walking the dog had meant an easy 10,000+ steps every day.
The gauntlet had been thrown down.
We Westerners are the poster children for Couch Potatoes. Netflix and Chill has become the sport of choice. The average American takes 5900 steps per day. The Brits clock in at 4000. We park as close as we can to the stores. We drive when we could walk or bike. We may deny it, but we often actively and unconsciously avoid walking.
Why 10,000 Steps?
The idea of 10,000 steps per day wasn’t birthed in serious research. Instead, it first emerged in a 1960s Japanese marketing campaign for pedometers. And while there’s still no science proving 10,000 steps is the magic number, there is plenty demonstrating the value of regular movement and 10,000 steps seems to be in the range where the most benefits occur.
Putting a number to it creates a goal and benchmark, which increases the probability you’ll move and keeps the idea that moving is beneficial right in front of you.
After my initial shock wore off, the Fitbit became my ally in adding a few steps and a few minutes every day. I am no good whatsoever at making huge leaps, but excel at small steps consistently taken. The Fitbit understood.
If you’re already active, you may be accruing those 10,000 steps or the equivalent. If you aren’t active, there’s no time like now (It’s truly never too late) to start.
Any kind of movement is good and walking is one of the easiest to incorporate into your day.
- Walking requires NO gym memberships and NO special equipment other than a decent pair of shoes.
- Walking requires NO special skills, NO team (though walking buddies are fun), and NO set practice schedule.
- Walking is NOT limited to the young or athletic. There is NO age limit.
- And even though I love my Fitbit, walking does NOT require any kind of fitness band. A free app for your phone or inexpensive pedometer will track your steps just fine.
The Benefits of Walking More
If there is no solid science for 10,000 steps, is there a reason to shoot for it instead of, say, 5000?
Any movement you add is good. Adding 5000 is certainly better than remaining sedentary. And there is some data suggesting the 10,000 step goal may be optimal. For example, it seems to be at this level of effort that natural glucose balancing begins occurring, helping prevent or address Type 2 diabetes.
Regular brisk walking can also help you:
- Attain and/or maintain a healthy weight.
- Prevent, improve, or manage multiple conditions including heart disease, high blood pressure, and the aforementioned Type 2 diabetes.
- Strengthen your bones and muscles.
- Improve your mood and clear your brain cobwebs.
- Improve your balance and coordination.
- Relieve stress.
Indoors or Outdoors?
It doesn’t matter. Movement is movement, and it all counts.
Although I prefer walking outdoors, that isn’t always feasible.
Some days, it’s a time issue. I simply don’t have a block of time for a long walk. Our neighborhood isn’t particularly walking-friendly, so getting in a good walk means first driving somewhere walkable. How goofy is that? On the other hand, I love the scenery of other neighborhoods and trails so it really isn't a hardship.
On the days when I’m short on time, numerous short "walks" throughout the day work best. I wear out the floors in my house - walking around the downstairs, up the stairs, around the upstairs, back down the stairs - and repeat the route throughout the day until the total is achieved. Bonus points for up and down the stairs.
In inclement weather, I can head to the gym or a mall. Though I’m not a fan of either alternative, they are better than sitting it out.
If 10,000 steps are good, are 12,000 or more even better?
The available research indicates 10,000 steps are the sweet spot for health and longevity. However, if fitness or weight loss is your goal, more steps will make will make a greater difference.
Calorie burning and muscle building are math, pure and simple. If you want to lose weight, eat sensibly and burn more calories than you take in. If you want to get or stay fit, use your muscles regularly.
Over the course of the year, I had regained a consistent 12,000 – 14,000 steps per day. Then the holidays hit. More delicious treats and less time for walking took their toll and gifted me with extra pounds.
So here at my one-year anniversary with Fitbit, we’re rebuilding our relationship, one step at a time. I know we’ll make it!