When I work with clients looking to eat better and get in shape, the questions around ‘step count’ always come up. How many steps per day do I need? Is walking really all I need to do to lose weight?
Truthfully, the right answer happens to be the oldest answer in the book: it depends. No fixed magic number of steps will help us lose weight or improve cardiovascular health. In fact, the 10,000 steps per day goal actually came from a 1965 marketing campaign for a pedometer.
So Do We Throw Step Counts Out The Window?
But just because that arbitrary number came from a marketing campaign doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong. Recent studies have shown anywhere from 8,000 steps per day to 11,000 steps can be beneficial to improve overall health. Walking has always been a crucial element of human conditioning, and it certainly shouldn’t be avoided unless you’re dealing with an injury.
My advice is simple: stay active, but don’t get addicted to specific numbers. Many wearable technologies aren’t even going to be able to tell you accurately how many steps you’ve taken or calories you’ve burned. Those numbers will always be estimates, so don’t take them as scripture.
How To Get More Steps In
Your real goal should be to not sit all day. Getting 10000 steps a day will produce results, but so will any activity.
The traditional American schedule is as follows: we wake up from sleeping, get dressed, and then sit in the car on the way to work. Then, we sit at our desks for 8 hours and then sit in our car on the way home. Once we get home, we sit at the table (or on the couch) to eat dinner. We round it out on the couch to watch TV before going to bed.
In other words, we endure a lot of physical inactivity. If having a ‘step goal’ motivates you to greater movement and mobility, then lean into it. But don’t let it become a burden. Really, you can up your amount of steps pretty easily with just a few tweaks to your daily routine.
Park farther from the store entrance: at grocery stores, shopping centers, and anywhere you are parking, park towards the back of the lot. You will also avoid more ‘door dings’!
Go for a walk after each meal: taking anywhere from a 5-15 minute walk after a meal can get the blood flowing and even help with the digestion of that meal.
Take the stairs: opt for the stairs to get to your destination instead of an escalator or elevator.
Walk and talk: if you are on calls often for work, opt to take some of them on a walk outside. This can also improve the conversation!
Try a walking desk: there are hundreds of options for under-desk walking pads that you can incorporate if you work from home. These are especially great if you live in a frigid winter climate (looking at you, Michigan).
The Key Takeaway
No matter how you increase your steps, it’s important to always increase incrementally. If you know you are not currently getting much activity at all, try to add in one 10-minute walk each day. We (Americans in general) have a tendency to do the opposite, and over-commit from the start, making it hard to stick to the habit. Start small and build your way up to an average of 8,000-11,000 steps per day.