We’ve all heard it drilled into our brains – you need to get 10,000 steps in every day to stay healthy. But, if you’ve ever actually tracked your steps you may have realized just how challenging it can be, especially if you have a desk job or avoid cardio like I do. But, do you really need it? And, if you do need it, how can you achieve it without going crazy? I’m here to sort out fact and fiction when it comes to the steps.
There is no question that moving more is better than moving less. In fact, you probably do move more than you think you do. In fact, everything we do expends some level of calories in a phenomenon known as non-exercise activity thermogenesis, or NEAT. Some people are lucky enough to have high NEAT jobs, such as farming or construction. Those of us who sit at a desk all day face a different challenge. But, there is a way to increase movement. Here are a few ideas:
- Drink more water. It forces you to go to the bathroom more. You’re even luckier if your restroom is far from your office area. Working from home my bathroom is on the next level, forcing me to climb stairs to go. Even better!
- Take 10-minute walking breaks, or a longer one on your lunch, if the weather is nice. I have started walking our dog morning and night for a half mile or so each. It’s been easy to hit 8 to 10K steps this way, especially on days I do more NEAT activities, such as cleaning the house or running errands.
- Park far away from the entrance when you go to the store.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator. These days, it’s probably safer for you, as well.
- Plant a garden! That will burn calories all by itself but so will tending it — watering, weeding, etc. Plus, you get healthy food!
All of these strategies will help you with your step count and thus calorie burn in support of that elusive 10,000 steps. But do you really need 10,000 steps a day? One study says not necessarily. Any movement is good and when you take into account the average American walks 4 to 5,000 steps a day, it’s easy to set your bar a bit higher for optimal results. My personal goal is 8,000 steps based on how my activity levels have ranged over time, as well as the latest research, which says 7 to 8,000 is the “sweet spot.” I use my Apple Watch to keep track. On days I walk the dog twice and stay active throughout the day, I easily get to 8K. On days I don’t walk her and sit around for most of the day, I’m lucky if I reach 4K. So, I know 8 is a better day for me personally. 10K is a stretch goal and I try to have at least one day a week where I reach it.
What you decide is best for you depends on your own activity level and goals, as well as your overall health. If you are overweight and want to lose weight, walking is a great low impact way to support that goal and you don’t even have to walk quickly. Start out small and walk around the block, adding more distance or more sessions as time goes by. Slowly, your step count — and calorie expenditure — will increase. Plus, you will have more energy and feel better as a result.
Steps is a great way to gauge your activity level. I know so many people who have lost weight just by walking more. It really does work! So, enjoy this summer weather and start paying attention to your NEAT. You just might hit 10K steps a day!