Try to imagine counting 10,000 grains of sand, or 10,000 pebbles on a beach. It’s hard, isn’t it? That’s because 10,000 is a big number — so big that it’s hard to picture 10,000 of anything. Yet walking 10,000 steps a day may significantly support both your physical and mental health.1 You’ll want to learn how to get 10,000 steps a day in, even on your busiest days.
If that step count seems like an intimidating goal, don’t despair. There are plenty of creative ways to achieve your fitness goals. As Tony Horton says, “Your limitations may be challenges, but they shouldn’t be excuses.”2
Why Is Walking So Important?
When you think about cardiovascular exercise, you might think about things that seem… hard. You may imagine runners grinding through their last mile, or spinning enthusiasts slumping over their handlebars after an intense climb. It’s enough to make you doubt whether anything less intense is even worth doing.
But it’s absolutely worth it. Whether your aim is to support heart health, achieve weight loss, or just maintain your current level of fitness, walking can help you get there. Even if the idea of “high intensity” fills you with high anxiety, you can reap significant health benefits from something as simple as reaching a daily step goal.
Managing Your Weight
Energy expenditure is the key to maintaining a healthy body composition.3 To achieve your weight loss goals, you have to create a calorie deficit by burning more calories than you consume. You can do this in three ways:
- Through resting energy expenditure, or REE: If your heart is pumping and your lungs are expanding, you’re burning calories — even in your sleep.
- Digesting and metabolizing your food: It takes work to turn all that matter into energy.
- Active energy expenditure: Whenever your body is moving, you’re elevating your energy expenditure above your REE. That active energy expenditure occurs even when you’re doing something as simple as household chores.4
So, while walking may be a moderate-intensity exercise, don’t confuse “moderate” with “ineffective.” Studies have shown that walking at roughly five miles per hour — that’s a 12-minute mile — may expend as much energy as jogging at similar speeds.5
Hitting that step goal may help you hit your weight loss goals as well. At the very least, it may help you to stave off weight gain.
Managing Your Blood Sugar
Studies have shown that walking briskly just 150 minutes a week — just two-and-a-half hours out of 168 — may help support healthy blood glucose levels.6 That’s not an unreasonable goal to hit — and as you’ll see, there are plenty of creative ways to reach it.
By managing both your blood sugar levels and your weight, you’re helping to support your heart health as well.7
Simply put, the more strenuous the exercise, the easier it may be to get injured.8 And sometimes, the discomfort of an injury can lead to giving up on exercise altogether.9
If injury is at all a concern for you, walking may be just what you need to help you stay healthy and fit. Walking carries a much lower risk of injury compared to activities like running.10
It’s also a great way to recover from more strenuous activity. If you’ve just gone for a long bike ride, for example, you can try walking as a cool down to prevent muscle soreness.11 So, even if you already consider yourself an athlete, you can still reap extra health benefits from simply walking.
Why 10,000 Steps?
On the surface, 10,000 may seem like an arbitrary step goal. Why not 5,000 steps? Or 20,000?
The truth is that walking even a little bit is better than not walking at all. In people with sedentary lifestyles, even just walking a few extra blocks per week can have significant health benefits.12 But the more you walk, the better you may feel — both mentally and physically.
The Physical Benefits Of 10,000 Steps
Walking at least 10,000 steps a day, even at low or moderate intensity, may help support healthy blood pressure and increase your overall exercise capacity. When you walk 10,000 steps a day for 12 weeks, you may increase your VO2max — your body’s maximal oxygen intake.13 A higher VO2max means your body may be able to more effectively convert oxygen into energy.14
So, even if your current lifestyle is mostly sedentary, walking 10,000 steps may help you to move on to more strenuous forms of exercise.
Taking Steps Toward Mental Health
Those 10,000 steps may be good for more than just your physical outcomes. Even just ten minutes of brisk walking may help support your overall mood.15 Studies have indicated that physical activity may help improve mood and increase an overall sense of well-being.16
Walking 10,000 steps a day for 12 weeks may help reduce feelings of tension, anger, and confusion. It may also improve your overall outlook. And when you feel the beneficial physical effects of walking, those positive feelings may compound even further.17
Step By Step: How To Work 10,000 Steps Into Your Busy Day
Now, 10,000 steps amounts to a distance of approximately five miles. (Depending on the length of your stride, it could be a little more or a little less than that.)18
That many steps may sound daunting at first. When the demands of work and family feel overwhelming, taking an hour-long break to walk five miles might seem inconceivable. And when fitness goals seem unattainable, your motivation to meet them may suffer.19
But don’t despair. There are simple things you can do, even in the middle of an impossibly busy day, to get in extra steps. So, strap on your pedometer and watch that step count rise.
Go For Multiple Shorter Walks
If you try to knock it all out at once, it could take close to an hour of brisk walking to get to 10K steps. But that doesn’t mean you have to get up an hour earlier to exercise. There’s good news: you don’t have to knock out that many steps all in one go.
Try spacing several ten-minute walks throughout the day. At least one study has shown that several shorter walks may be just as beneficial as one longer one.20
Add A Little Challenge To Everyday Activities
When you’re shopping, try parking as far away from the store entrance as you can. Walking to and from your car can go a long way toward increasing your daily step count.
If you can, take the stairs instead of the elevator at work. It’s a great way to get in those extra steps.21 And instead of calling your co-workers at their desks, try walking over to their offices or cubicles.22
Go For A Walk After Meals
At the end of a long day, you may want to just crash on the couch after dinner. But instead, see if you can lace up your walking shoes and get in some physical activity. It won’t just help you get your daily steps in; studies have shown that exercise after meals may be particularly effective at helping to support blood glucose levels.23
Step Into Healthier Lifestyle
When it comes to increasing your step count, every step counts. And walking is a physical activity that you can do almost anywhere. You don’t need a gym. You don’t need exercise equipment. You don’t even need to learn a new skill. All you need are your own two feet to get in as many steps as you need.24
So, turn on that fitness tracker and get those feet moving. No matter where you are on your exercise journey, you can make progress every day, one step at a time.
2 Horton, Tony. (2014). The Big Picture: 11 Laws That Will Change Your Life. Harper Wave.