Raise Your Walking Game

The scoop on why 10,000 steps a day matters. Plus, no-sweat ways to reach that number.

When it comes to improving your health, there’s no shortage of numbers you need to track. Calories, waist size, blood pressure, heart rate—they’re all important. And then there’s this number: 10,000. That’s the number of steps health experts would like to see all of us logging every day.

Why 10K? The 10,000-step rule actually originated in Japan decades ago, thanks to a pedometer that used this number in its slogan. Many Japanese walking groups adopted the goal of logging 10,000 steps per day, and since then, other organizations—including the American Heart Association—have agreed with its effectiveness.

Since those early pedometers gained popularity, studies showing the health benefits of accumulating 10,000 steps per day have been racking up, says Jessica Matthews, assistant professor of health and exercise science at Miramar College in San Diego. It’s the magic number linked to lowering blood pressure and glucose levels, for example. It’s a great way to keep unwanted pounds from creeping up on you. The lofty number of steps has even been associated with reducing depression. But perhaps the only reason you need to remember, says Matthews, is that “this amount of activity most closely coincides with the surgeon general’s and the American College of Sports Medicine’s recommendation that adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week for improved overall health.”

Your first step toward hitting this new target is to tally your current daily steps. To do that, you’ll need a pedometer or an activity tracker like the Fitbit Flex. Track your steps for three to five days, then average them out: That’s your baseline daily step count. Don’t worry if your figure falls far short of 10K: A recent study found that the average American takes just 5,117 steps per day, so you’re in good company. Next, set a realistic goal for upping your walking game. For most people, adding 500 or 1,000 extra daily steps at a time is doable, says Matthews. When that new number feels comfortable, continue adding steps until you reach the full 10,000. Be patient, and remember that any increase in the amount of physical activity you’re getting on a daily basis is a good thing.

To get you started racking up additional steps, use some of the strategies that have been working for us:

  • Choose stairs over elevators and escalators whenever possible.
  • Park farther away from entrances to buildings.
  • Take a 10-minute walk during lunch or at another point in your workday.
  • Schedule walking meetings with colleagues whenever practical; and consider walking to a co-worker to discuss something you’d normally handle via an email chain.
  • Look for errands that you can cover without getting into your car—like the ATM, coffee shop, or convenience store.
  • Rather than catching up with friends or family over happy hour, schedule an active outing like a hike or walk.
  • Whenever you’re on the phone, walk as you talk.
  • Set a timer to remind yourself to walk one to five minutes every hour.
  • When you’re watching TV, walk around or march in place during commercials.
  • At home, be less efficient with your chores: Make a few trips to put away the laundry, for example. Or take the grocery bags in one by one.
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