How To Walk 10,000 Steps a Day

Walking 10,000 steps in one day is not easy. For starters, walking 10,000 steps is about five miles. Even if you do this every day, and it no longer feels hard, that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

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Reaching 10,000 steps in one day requires about one hour and 40 minutes of walking. That doesn’t happen by accident. The average person walks less than half that amount each day. Sadly, most of us feel we’re moving far more than we actually are.

Before the pandemic, a friend of mine spent the day in New York City. He said they WALKED EVERYWHERE. He was sure he set all kinds of new one day step records. He finished the day with 15,000 steps. He was disappointed, but also had a newfound respect on just how difficult it is to reach 10,000 every day.

If you already hit 10k a day, enjoy this blog as a reminder that you are doing a hard thing. If you want to reach 10k a day, I’m going to give you some practical advice about how to hit that number and stay there consistently.

10,000 STEPS REQUIRES FITNESS

Walking 10,000 steps isn’t easy because fitness isn’t easy. That’s why so many of us bail on exercise. It’s not fun and it’s not easy. Brushing your teeth isn’t fun. Imagine if it also was not easy. We humans generally don’t choose things that are both not fun AND not easy.

This is why my friend felt like he got way more steps in NYC than he actually did. He walked a lot more than usual and he pushed past his fitness level doing it. By contrast, someone who walks 20,000 steps a day probably would not have felt the same exertion walking just 15,000.

It takes time to build your fitness level where you can reach and maintain 10,000 steps a day. And, because fitness is dynamic and not static, if you back off for awhile, those 10,000 steps are going to feel hard again.

10,000 STEPS REQUIRES A TIME COMMITMENT

It’s not easy to find one hour and 40 minutes every day to walk. Life is busy and that chunk of time requires a commitment. It’s not that we CAN’T find 100 minutes a day to walk. It’s that we choose not to.

Most of us have enough time freedom that we can carve out 100 minutes. The bigger challenge is that life is so hard that when we have freedom to choose, we’d rather do something fun, or at least easy. 

You’re also not going to reach 10,000 steps doing things by simply choosing a spot in the back of  the parking lot. There’s value in doing that, but you need to do that 50 times a day to reach your goal of 10,000.

Even with a lot of small choices like parking far away, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and putting dishes away one at a time you’re still going to fall short of 10,000 steps. Way short. You’ll probably still need to take a 30-45 minute walk every day to make up the shortfall and that requires not doing something else that may feel more fun or be easier.

10,000 STEPS DOESN’T CARE ABOUT THE WEATHER

Taking a 30 minute walk when it’s sunny and 72 degrees makes you wonder why you’re not doing this every day. It’s fun! Taking a walk when it’s raining and 45 degrees makes you wonder something else entirely.

Walking 10,000 steps a day requires a certain level of crazy. Your fitness doesn’t care if the weather is comfortable or not. A commitment to reach 10,000 steps a day means some days you’ll be walking in cold, wet, and windy conditions. Either that, or doing laps inside your house which drives everyone else crazy.

Of course, you can get around the weather equation by using a treadmill. But, that adds a different layer of hard by requiring a money commitment. You either have to buy a treadmill (and find a place to put it in your house) or pay a monthly gym fee.

Either way, the weather is often not your friend when you decide to walk 10,000 steps a day.

10,000 STEPS GETS BORING

When you do the “same thing” every day boredom is a pretty strong possibility. Unless you have the resources and capability to walk somewhere different every day, most of your steps are going to be along the “same path.”

For many years I walked through the neighborhood across the street. It was large enough that I could change up the route, but there were only so many variations. And, even with that option I still tended to walk the same route each time.

But, it never got boring because I found ways to keep it interesting. I walked it at different times of the day which changed the way it looked because of sun angles. I walked it in just about all kinds of weather. That certainly made it not the same. I walked it listening to podcasts. I walked it listening to music. I walked it listening to nothing, but the birds and bugs. And, I walked it with my wife as we talked about life.

There were ways to keep it from getting boring, but they required thought and intention. And, that made it not easy.

10,000 STEPS IS WORTH IT

If you are already walking 10,000 steps every day, you’re doing a hard thing and you should feel good about that. Very few are doing what you’re doing!

If you want to walk 10,000 steps, but have struggled with consistently reaching that goal, now you know why. It’s not easy.

But, it’s worth it.

  1. Health benefits – Moving is better than sitting. Experts keep telling us to get up and move. The CDC says we need to get between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate activity each week. Walking briskly counts. If you walk two miles in 40 minutes every day you’re almost at the upper end of these recommendations. Walking this much can lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.
  2. Emotional benefits – Physical activity is a proven stress reducer. When you’re walking you are lowering your stress level. This isn’t a future benefit. It’s a RIGHT NOW benefit.
  3. Mental benefits – Physical activity has a physiological impact on your brain. You think better when you’re moving. Additionally, you can learn while you walk by listening to audiobooks and podcasts.
  4. Productivity benefits – Walking is exercise that allows you to multitask. You can talk on the phone, solve problems, and plan while you’re walking. Walking for fitness allows your brain free space to do other things while you move.

HOW TO REACH 10,000 STEPS

The key to reaching 10,000 steps a day is by GRADUALLY increasing your daily step total. Oh sure, most us can hit 10,000 a day if we push ourselves. The bigger question is, can you do it every day? And, for the reasons above, the answer for most of us is NO.

Remember, walking 10,000 steps every day is not easy. It’s hard. And, doing a hard thing takes time.

DETERMINE YOUR AVERAGE STEP COUNT

The first thing to do is figure out how many steps you’re walking, on average, right now. If you already have a Fitbit simply go back and determine your average steps per day for the past week. Even better, what’s your average daily step count for the past four weeks?

If you are getting a Fitbit, wear it for a week (making sure it stays charged) and go about your normal activities. Don’t do anything extra. This isn’t the time to start taking a 30 minute walk if you aren’t already doing it.

It’s important to know YOUR starting point. 

ADD 500 STEPS TO YOUR DAILY AVERAGE

Once you know your average daily step count add 500. This will be your daily goal for the next 30 days. If you’ve been averaging 3,700 steps a day, your goal will be 4,200. Don’t give in to the temptation to add more than 500 steps. You may easily blow past 4,200 the first week you’re doing this, but don’t increase your goal!

At some point during those first 30 days you’re going to face a day that reaching 4,200 is hard. Either circumstances will work against you or you simply won’t feel like it. On those days, your goal will feel really hard. But, these will also be the most valuable days because you’ll push through and begin building an internal narrative that you can do a hard thing even when you don’t feel like it.

What happens if you miss a day? Start over. 

The biggest challenge of fitness isn’t physical…it’s mental. Fitness usually fails because we lose interest…not because we lose the physical capacity. We have to train our mind as much as we are training our body.

If you don’t reach your daily goal it’s better to start over than to give yourself a pass. Once you do that, it becomes much easier the next time it gets hard. 

That said, there are legit reasons to take a day off. If you are physically sick or injured and you’re doing more harm moving than resting you need to rest. I also believe, if someone in my world is in crisis and needs me, that is far more important than reaching a fitness goal that day.

The bottom line is, you want to be careful about giving yourself an easy out when it gets hard. This is where so many fitness journeys go off track.

ADD 500 MORE STEPS

After you complete the first 30 days, you may add another 500 steps to your goal. Again, resist the temptation to go higher than that. Even if it felt easy during the first 30 days, you’re still building the fitness capacity to do more as well as the mental capacity to do a hard thing every day. 

You’re also learning how to prioritize time for fitness in your daily schedule. At some point, that will be challenged and you don’t want your goal to be larger than your capacity to adjust. Don’t lose sight of the bigger goal. You are working toward walking 10,000 steps every day. It’s not easy and if you try and do more than you’re ready for you are setting yourself up for possible discouragement. It’s much better to gradually increase. 

ADD MORE STEPS

Once you’ve reached your gradually increasing step goal for 60 days, you may now be ready to go even higher. If it’s still a challenge, the best thing you can do is add another 30 days at the same goal. If, however, you’re easily reaching your daily goal then you can add either 500 or 1,000 steps a day for the next 30 days.

This is the pattern you will follow until you reach 10,000 steps a day. If you increase your goal 500 steps a day every 30 days you’re on pace to add 6,000 steps a day in one year. That’s a lot if you’re only doing 4,000 a day right now.

I believe the finish line for fitness is the finish line of life. My goal is to age well and my fitness is a significant part of that goal. I think that’s a good goal for you too. If you agree, that means you have time to start small and think long. And, if you approach fitness with that attitude, you’ll be walking 10,000 steps a day for a long time.

TAKE ACTION

To help you get started on your journey towards 10,000 steps try The 30 Day Fitness Challenge. It will guide you through setting the right beginning step goal. It also has a daily Win Tracker to chart your progress.

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.

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(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)

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