Should You Walk 10,000 Steps a Day?

10,000 steps a day is a great goal. It’s also a terrible goal.

IT’S A GREAT GOAL

To reach 10,000 steps in a day the average person needs to move about one hour and 40 minutes. The Centers for Disease Control recommends we get between 150-300 minutes of moderate physical activity every week.

The key is the definition of moderate. The average person moves less than 4,000 steps a day. Most are light intensity steps. These happen as we walk from the bedroom to the kitchen, through the grocery store, or down the hallway at work.

Every step we take is beneficial, but to really take advantage of the health benefits of walking there needs to be a little more intensity. That’s why 10,000 steps a day is a great goal. Most of us don’t move that much doing normal life stuff. To reach 10,000 steps a day there needs to be some intentionality.

That kind of intentionality usually means a “fitness walk” which is a little faster than the casual pace one would use walking to the trash can to throw something away. That doesn’t mean you have to walk really fast. If you’re getting about a thousand steps in 10-minutes you’re moving at what the CDC considers a moderate pace.

And, if you take a 30-minute walk every day as part of your effort to reach 10,000 steps the benefits are immense:

  1. Your heart gets stronger. The research shows a lower risk of heart disease and stroke. Walking 10,000 steps a day can also help lower your blood pressure. Heart disease is the biggest cause of death in the U.S. and this benefit alone is worth the time and effort of moving more and sitting less.
  2. Your risk for diabetes drops.
  3. The risk for certain types of cancers is lowered. This includes breast, colon, and lung cancer.
  4. Walking 10,000 steps a day can also help if you suffer from depression.
  5. There’s a calming effect of walking 10,000 steps a day.
  6. You think better when you move more. Walking 10,000 steps a day is good for your brain health.
  7. Creativity goes up when you walk.

To be clear, walking 10,000 steps a day guarantees nothing. These are the possible benefits research has uncovered for those who get between 150-300 minutes of moderate level exercise every week, but the human body is complex and mysterious.

For many years now I’ve gotten at least 10,000 steps every day and I’m enjoying many of these benefits. So, yes, I believe 10,000 steps a day is a great Fitbit goal.

IT’S A TERRIBLE GOAL

Fitness is hard…especially at the beginning. When you make a decision to get healthier and exercise more there’s a tremendous amount of excitement at the start. You’ve made a decision that will change your life and that feels exhilarating.

Then the rubber hits the road and fitness gets hard real fast.

  1. Exercise feels bad. Your lungs, muscles, and joints need to be eased into physical activity. But, that’s not how we usually start a new fitness program. We’re excited so we dive right into the deep end and our body lets us know it’s not happy with that decision.
  2. We don’t see any results. The reason we make exercise a goal is because we want to feel better and look better. But, fitness is not a microwave….it’s a crockpot. Fitness takes time and the results at the beginning don’t even come close to the effort we’re making. It can be very discouraging.
  3. Exercise feels awkward. It feels like everybody else at the gym is judging your lack of fitness. It can feel even worse if you’re doing activities that require some skill that you don’t have yet. The whole thing is just a thick soup of awkwardness.
  4. It’s not fun. Once the initial excitement fades, and it always does, exercise can become the least fun part of your day. Pretty soon you’re looking for reasons to skip that workout.

And this begins the cycle of fitness failure. I’ve experienced this. I would commit to a new fitness program promising myself it would be different this time. Except it’s not. Now shame is part of the mix and that can lead to feelings of, “I don’t have what it takes.” I know. That’s how I felt about exercise and fitness.

That’s also why, I believe, millions of Fitbit step trackers have been sold. Walking for exercise feels so doable when you think about it. And, it is!

So, you buy a Fitbit, strap it on, and aim for 10,000 steps because that’s what everyone says you should get. And, who decided 10,000 steps a day was a good goal?

More than 50 years ago a Japanese company made a pedometer they called a Manpo-kei, which translates to “10,000 Steps Meter”. It was a marketing campaign that stuck!

There’s a bit of randomness to how 10,000 steps a day became the universal Fitbit goal. But, 10,000 steps a day is a terrible starting goal.

It begins with what I call the First Day Fitbit Surprise. Remember, the average person walks about 4,000 steps a day and that is boosted by people who are already walking for fitness or running. That means most of us who are not doing any form of exercise are well south of that 4,000 steps a day mark.

But, we don’t know that until we wear our Fitbit for the first time. I suspect a lot of us think 10,000 steps is an easy goal to hit. I thought so until my first day wearing a Fitbit. I even ran 3 miles that day and I wasn’t even close to 10,000 steps.

If someone is averaging 4,000 steps a day (or less) it’s very hard to add 6,000 steps instantly and sustain that. Here’s why:

  1. It requires a certain level of fitness to consistently walk 10,000 steps a day.
  2. Going from 4,000 steps a day to 10,000 steps requires an extra hour of walking every day. That means a significant shift in your daily schedule.
  3. As with any form of exercise there is a gap between the excitement at the start, which fades, and when you start to see and feel any results.

How many of us have heard that 10,000 steps should be the goal and start there? And, how many of us have decided it’s too hard and then give up? That’s why it’s a terrible goal. Unless you’re already walking close to 10,000 steps a day it’s way too big as a starting point.

And, sadly how many fail at 10,000 steps a day and then they are convinced they don’t have what it takes to pursue fitness?

If you have felt that, there’s good news. You really do have what it takes build a lifestyle of fitness.

The key is how you start.

I want to recommend a 30 Day Fitness Challenge. Setting the right goal to get started is critical!

This free guide will help you do just that. The 30 Day Fitness Challenge also includes a contract you sign to keep your daily commitment. I know that sounds a little cheesy, but it can be just the motivation you need on a day where keeping your fitness commitment feels too hard.

Every day you reach your goal is a WIN. This guide also includes a a 30 Day Tracker to help you celebrate each of those wins. It’ll feel really good as you track these. But, more importantly it’ll help you build fitness momentum that will last.

You can get started today with The 30 Day Fitness Challenge.

If you don’t have a Fitbit I recommend

If you don’t have a Fitbit I recommend the brand new Fitbit Inspire 2! The Inspire 2 has double the battery life, and also tracks your heart rate and sleep so you get an even wider picture of your fitness progress.

(By the way…if you use the link above to buy a Fitbit Inspire 2 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)

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.

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.

2 thoughts on “Should You Walk 10,000 Steps a Day?

  • Thank you for all your encouragement since December I took the challenge to walk 13,000 steps a day praise the Lord so far so good. Most days I get 15000 or more but I can’t go to bed without my 13,000 thanks so much I feel much better, I haven’t had much weight change but I do have more endurance. Blessings Darlene

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