10,000 steps – Is it really a good target?

yoda 10000 steps

A couple of months ago, as part of a company health promotion, I started to track my daily steps. The aim was that teams of 4 would record their steps (and therefore distance) over 4 weeks with the aim to promote walking and moving more.

I was sceptical. I don’t track my steps believing that I do plenty. Wanting to be involved, I organised a team to get some colleagues moving.

There have been many articles about the hallowed 10,000 steps and whether it helps activity levels or if it’s just an arbitrary number. Also, about whether fitness trackers work.

For the purpose of this post, we are talking about steps. Not whether a tracker makes you exercise more (i.e. a class or group activity), counts calories or tracks your heart rate accurately, or helps weight loss. It’s whether a tracker/or step counting actually makes you move more.

From my 4 weeks, these are my findings –

10,000 steps is not that easy

I counted my steps using my Garmin Forerunner 235, normally only wear it when exercising. I thought that 10,000 steps was an easy number to hit. How wrong I was . If you run for 1 hour a day, then no problem, you may hit the target before 10 am. If you don’t, then you can end up nowhere near it. There were plenty of days I was nowhere near it (around 6000).

Pottering around an office and home does not add up

Sitting at a desk is not the greatest thing for you. Many news sites and blogs (including this one) talk about getting up every hour and walking to the water fountain, or to make a cup of tea, sending printing to a printer at the other end of the office or walking to talk to someone instead of emailing them. Whilst these are all good in terms of getting up and moving these steps do not add up to much. When I drove to work, did not walk at lunch or do any exercise that day, I ended up only halfway to the 10,000 steps.

You need two separate walks

In the week, every lunchtime I tend to walk to the local Waitrose supermarket to pick up lunch and a free coffee. Whilst lunch can sometimes end up not being the healthiest, I do get out of the office and get a walk in which is good for body and mind. Although the walk is 20 minutes or so, it was only 3,000 steps and on a “low activity” day, I could still end up well below 10,000 at around 8,000 steps. With another 20 minutes daily walk added (normally in the evening) was enough to hit the target.

If you don’t walk as part of your commute you’ll struggle

One day I walked to the bus stop, walked from the stop to the doctor’s surgery, walked back to the bus stop, then walked from the stop to work. I had 6,000 steps before 9.30am.

If you driving to work, work in an office, drive home and have a comfortable sofa, hitting 100,00 step will be a struggle and you’re likely very physically inactive.

If you have a dog, then no problem

During the 4 weeks, I dog-sat a friend’s dog. Walking a dog twice a day for 30mins each will get you to 10,000 steps without a problem. A long walk (2hrs) during your normal routine (a walk to the shops) will get you close to 20,000!

It does motivate you (or it did me)

There were plenty of times around 10 pm I would look at my Garmin and would be at around 8,000 steps. I would then pull my trainers on and go for a walk around the block to hit 10,000 steps. 10,000 may be arbitrary, but it got me moving.

It got us talking

As soon as we started monitoring our steps, the topic of conversation in the office was often steps. How many, where we had been, our evening walks, whether we were taking the long route at lunchtime. It really got us talking and talking about health and activity.

Overall, I was surprised but how difficult it was to get 10,000 steps without making a particular effort and personally think fitness/step trackers are a good thing and get people moving more. Trackers are improving all the time and becoming my functional and better looking (some actually look like watches).

There are experiments that have shown a shorter more intense walk can actually be better for you. Or that moving and exercise is not our only problem as George Monbiot highlights in this article.

David Sedaris wrote a funny piece a few years ago called Living the Fitbit life that shows what happen when Fitbit fever hits.

 

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