Walking. The most underrated exercise in modern time.
Getting enough of this low-impact exercise comes pretty naturally for some people, but for others, especially those with office jobs or other similarly sedentary daily routines, it can be hard to get enough movement to contribute to a meaningful healthy movement pattern.
The number of steps that we take in a day can be a pretty big indicator of how active (or inactive) our lifestyle is and give us a good framework for how we should be approaching our structured exercise routines.
So let’s step right to it: how many steps a day should we be taking to make sure that we’re at our healthiest?
How Many Steps Should I Take Daily?
When it comes to daily steps, you probably hear the number “10,000” thrown around a lot, but you don’t necessarily have to reach this exact number to improve your health. What you should do, however, is aim to get as close to 10,000 as you can.
If you take 10,000 steps a day, you’ll be walking approximately five miles every day, which is definitely good news for your muscles and heart health. However, studies have indicated that you can still reap the benefits of walking even without hitting exactly 10,000. In fact, one found that participants who got at least 7,500 steps every day were still able to show a decreased mortality rate compared to less-active participants who got about half those steps or less. [*]
So you definitely want to keep your activity level high, but 10,000 isn’t a magic number in and of itself – just a great goal to shoot for to ensure that you’re staying active!
What Happens If I Don’t Get Enough Steps?
The reason that your daily number of steps is such an important marker of your physical fitness is that it literally gives you a framework to determine just how much you are moving every day. If you have a job or daily routine that keeps you on your feet for the majority of the day, you might find that you have little trouble meeting your daily step count pretty naturally.
On the other hand, if you spend the majority of the day sitting in front of a computer screen and don’t take the time to seek out some heart-healthy exercise in your spare time, you’ll probably have a much harder time getting close to the 10,000-step mark in your daily life.
As we all know, a sedentary life doesn’t exactly lend itself to the best health. Too much sitting and too little exercise has been implicated in everything from weight gain to a change in your triglyceride and blood sugar levels – and unfortunately, these can eventually contribute to chronic health conditions like high blood pressure, Type 2 Diabetes, and cardiovascular disease if left unchecked. [*]
When you’re sitting around instead of moving your body, you also aren’t using your muscles, and the old adage “use it or lose it” rings true in this case. A lack of muscle use can mean muscle atrophy, or shrinking, and besides making you feel weaker, this can also lead to consequences like poor balance and a difficult time getting moving in general down the road. [*]
And the bottom line is this: higher daily step counts are simply associated with living longer. One study that evaluated the daily step counts of participants then followed up years later found that the groups that had higher step counts ranging from 8,000-12,000 steps lowered their risk of death by a whopping 51%-65%, as compared to people who only managed about 4,000 steps daily. [*]
How To Get More Daily Steps In
To start moving your body more and increasing your physical activity, you can start small, but the important thing is to make sure that you’re increasing your effort every single day so that you can increase your overall health.
Start by scheduling a purposeful walk at some point during the day. It can be around the neighborhood, in your local park, or even on a treadmill: the important thing is to make sure that you’re setting aside a chunk of time to make it happen and get your body moving.
Increasing your daily step count will probably also mean tweaking your lifestyle in addition to just adding some structured exercise time. Take a look at your daily routine and see how you can switch it up to incorporate more movement. For example,
- Are you spending your day in front of a computer screen? If so, can you take a ten-minute break every hour to stretch your legs and pace around the office or your house to get the blood flowing?
- Or are there times that you spend on your phone or TV that could be better utilized by taking another walk around the neighborhood?
Other tips for increasing your daily step count:
- Take baby steps. If you are starting from scratch and want to build up some endurance, start by doing little things that require a bit more walking: park further away when you go to the store, take a quick five-minute walk around the office during a short work break, or do a circuit around the block when the commercials start. You’ll start building your muscles and getting your body used to longer bouts.
- Get a walking companion (or a dog!). Setting out for your walks alone can be a great time for getting some peace and self-reflection, but sometimes it’s simply more fun with a friend (not to mention a little safer). Recruit someone to walk the neighborhood with you. And if you’re in the mood for a little more commitment, you might want to think about getting a dog! These furry companions require a ton of walks, so you’ll be held accountable for getting the steps in even on the days where you just aren’t feeling it.
The Bottom Line
Your daily step count is a big indicator of how active your lifestyle is and whether or not it can be improved. If you feel like your step count is too low, make a concerted effort to move more, in both little and big ways. It’ll all add up!