How Many Steps Should You Get a Day?

Your goal should not be 10,000 steps.

Most people get their first Fitbit and assume this is what they should aim for. It’s what everybody else gets, so why shouldn’t they?

Except, it’s not what everybody gets. The average American actually only walks about 4,000 steps a day. To go from 4,000 to 10,000 is simply not sustainable for most people. And, sadly, it doesn’t take long to lose that initial burst of fitness motivation.

Who Decided on 10,000 Steps?

More than 50 years ago, a Japanese professor of health science believed walking 10,000 steps a day would help people avoid obesity. He invented a pedometer and named it Manpo-kei which means “10,000 step meter.” He promoted it heavily and, well, it stuck.

So, here’s what happens now. Someone gets a Fitbit and straps it on and aims for 10,000 steps because they believe that’s what the goal SHOULD be. They move about their day, like they always do, fully expecting to nail it. They assume they move “all day long” so 10,000 should be easy. They won’t just nail that goal, they’ll shatter it.

Sadly, at the end of that first day they are FAR short of 10,000 steps. They are shocked…and discouraged. But, they don’t give up. They might give it a good try for about two weeks, perhaps even reaching 10,000 a few times. But, then recognizing just how hard it is to do every day they lose their enthusiasm and motivation. They even start “forgetting” to wear their Fitbit. Eventually they just give up and the Fitbit ends up in a drawer.

All because a professor more than 50 years ago thought 10,000 steps a day was a good goal.

So, how many steps should you get every day? If your goal is to improve your health and get fit the answer is depends on how much you’re walking right now. There are two basic ways to measure that.

You can measure it by time or by steps. Measuring by time is pretty clunky because you would have to use a stopwatch every time you walk and then add all those chunks of time up at the end of the day. I don’t know anybody who wants to do that.

Or, you can buy a step tracker, like a Fitbit, that counts your steps for you. At the end of the day all you have to do is check your step tracker for that day’s total.

If you don’t have a Fitbit I recommend the Fitbit Inspire HR. This is the Fitbit I use. The Inspire HR also tracks your heart rate and sleep so you get an even wider picture of your fitness progress.

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(By the way…if you use the link above to but a Fitbit Inspire HR this blog will receive a small commission. It won’t add anything to what you pay, but letting you know is the right thing to do)

Here’s where most people go off the rails. They get that first Fitbit and immediately set a goal…like 10,000 steps. That’s actually the worst thing you can do. The best thing you can do is wear it for a week and don’t pay any attention to it. Don’t even do any extra walking. Simply make sure it’s charged up every day and then live your normal life.

At the end of that first week figure out your average daily step total. This is the most important piece of information to answer the question, “How many steps should I get?” The answer to that starts with how many steps you are currently getting every day.

Nine Ways Walking For Exercise Can Change Your Life

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends between 180-300 minutes of moderate physical activity every week. Walking is a great activity to accomplish this and unlock the benefits of regular exercise.

  1. Lowers your risk of heart disease, including heart attacks and stroke.Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United State and number two isn’t even close. If this were your only benefit, it would be enough!
  2. Lowers your risk of diabetes. Regular exercise can lower your blood glucose level and increase your body’s sensitivity to insulin. Reaching the CDC exercise recommendations also improves weight control, helps with cholesterol levels, and improves blood pressure. This can help everybody, but is especially important in managing and reducing the risk of getting diabetes.
  3. Reduces your risk of certain types of cancers. Research has linked exercise to a reduced risk of some of the deadliest cancers including lung, colon, and breast cancer.
  4. Helps control weight. Regular exercise, like walking, burns calories which is a key factor in losing weight.
  5. Helps fight depression. There’s a growing body of encouraging research that indicates exercise can be effective in fighting depression. The biggest challenge is getting started. Exercise is hard even when you’re not battling depression because finding and sustaining the motivation is challenging. Thankfully, walking is the easiest way to start a fitness journey.
  6. Lifts your mood. Even if you’re not fighting depression, a nice walk is one of the most powerful ways to lift your mood. Sustained physical movement releases endorphins, which are the body’s feel good reward for your activity.
  7. Better sleep. Exercise releases melatonin, the body’s natural sleep hormone. The key to getting better sleep depends on when you exercise during the day. Taking a long walk right before bedtime can actually make it harder to fall asleep.
  8. Better thinking. Research indicates that exercise releases chemicals that encourage the growth of new blood vessels in your brain. Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple was famous for doing some of his best thinking and planning while taking walks. Additionally, research has also shown that walking can improve your creativity.
  9. Calms stress. Stress and anxiety create hormones that are not good. Walking is a great way to burn off those hormones. The effect is almost immediate.   

The good news is you don’t need 10,000 steps a day to enjoy these benefits. If you took a 30 minute walk with a moderate pace every day you would be well within the CDC weekly exercise recommendations.

But, even a daily 30 minute walk is too big a goal for most people. Instead, the real goal when you’re ready to make exercise a part of your everyday life is to…

…make exercise a part of your everyday life.

That’s not meant to be funny or even clever. The first goal of fitness is simply to establish an exercise habit. The biggest challenge we face when starting a fitness journey is to keep it going after the emotions fade away. The idea of an eventual fitness transformation is very exciting. And, it should be.

But, making exercise a regular part of your life is not easy. There’s always a long gap between when the emotions are gone and when we feel like the exercise is working. It’s in that gap that fitness often gets tossed aside.

After exercise becomes a habit you begin to build momentum. Without realizing it, your body is growing stronger and is capable of doing more. And, so you do more. As that happens, the flywheel of fitness momentum keeps moving faster and faster. That momentum eventually leads to fitness transformation.

4 Reasons Why Walking is The Perfect Exercise.

  1. Walking is effective exercise. The recommendations from the CDC are for 180-300 minutes of moderate physical activity to unlock the benefits of exercise. To reach a moderate pace you need to be moving at least 3mph. That would give you about 100 steps a minute. Sustaining this pace, about 3,000 steps in 30 minutes, has tremendous health and well-being benefits.
  2. Walking is flexible exercise. The beauty of walking is you can do it anywhere and at anytime. You can also change the intensity of your walk by going longer, moving faster, and using the stairs or going up a hill. 
  3. Walking is sustainable exercise. You don’t need any special skills or equipment to walk for exercise. Because walking is low impact it’s also a great activity for the ever-changing seasons of life. 
  4. Walking is fun exercise. Walking for exercise can uniquely fit your personality and be great fun. I live near Washington DC and love exploring our nation’s capitol. I easily put 20,000 steps on my Fitbit in just a few hours and it doesn’t feel like exercise at all. You can walk alone or with people. You can listen to music, podcasts, or audio books. There are so many ways to make walking a fun part of your life!

The first 30 days of any new goal is make or break time. Research indicates 92% of all goals eventually fail. That means if you’re reading this and you’re motivated to set a new exercise goal, the odds are against your success.

Change the Odds

There are two things you can do to be part of the 8% who succeed in accomplishing their goal.

  1. Start small. Set a small goal that only pushes you a couple days a week. The tendency is to set an exercise goal that’s way too big because we want the transformation right now. Exercise goals that are too big almost always fall into that 92% failure group. Instead, set a smaller, more sustainable goal to start.
  2. Think long. Fitness is a marathon, not a sprint. The real goal of exercise is to change the rest of your life. For that to happen, fitness needs to be a lifelong journey. Knowing that gives you the emotional permission to start small and not focus on all the transformation happening right now

This is why 10,000 steps is a terrible starting point. It’s way too big and usually not sustainable. That doesn’t mean 10,000 will never be your goal. Just not now.

How Many Steps Should You Get Every Day?

Let’s go back to your seven day average. Simply add 500 steps to your average and that’s how many steps you should get every day.

But, even that goal needs help to last.

Take The 30 Day Challenge

If you make it to Day 18 of a new goal your odds of success dramatically increase from just 8% to 40%!! That’s how important the first 30 days are to reaching any new goal.

The 30 Day Challenge has two things to help you reach your goal.

  1. A contract. It’s hard to keep commitments to other people. It’s even harder to keep commitments we make with ourselves. It may sound cheesy, but signing a contract to reach your step goal every day works. You’re going to have a few days where you just won’t feel like reaching your goal. This signed contract will be a huge motivator to keep going.
  2. Win tracker. Every day you reach your step goal is a win. The 30 Day Challenge includes a tracker to chart your progress and celebrate your daily wins.

You can get started today with The 30 Day Fitness Challenge. It’s free! It also includes the contract you can make with yourself and a daily Win Tracker to chart your progress.

Lastly, this blog is designed to help you embrace walking as a fitness activity. It’s sustainable, flexible, effective, and fun. Every week I post new articles with stories and helpful suggestions to Win at Fitness.

If you click FOLLOW (below on your phone…to the right and above on your computer) you’ll receive an email with a link to each new blog post.

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