Last week when WebMD announced a 10k steps per day challenge for employees, I got a pedometer and planned to sign up. I’m an active, health-conscious woman, so I thought 10k steps a day shouldn’t be a big deal. Turns out, it is.
I’m surprised to find that I’m struggling to reach 10,000 steps in a day. On a day that I’ve worked out, I’m getting 6,000 steps, and on a non-exercise day, I’m really low – like barely 1,000 steps. What is wrong with me?
Hold on… that wasn’t a nice thing to say! I shouldn’t be so self-critical. After all, I wouldn’t talk to a patient like that. If I put on my doctor hat – with the goal to be an empathetic, thoughtful problem-solver, I start to speak to myself a little differently:
Arefa, let’s look at the big picture. You sit at a computer many hours every day – that’s considered a sedentary job. And also important, you’re a working mom, that’s tough – no way around it, your time is limited.
Arefa, so what are your goals?
1. You want to wear the same size you wore before the sedentary job – and a little vanity is all right, the health benefits of losing the weight are great.
2. You feel good when you exercise. It’s great for your mental health; and you’re definitely nicer to the people around you.
3. You want to keep up with your kids – hiking, biking, and swimming. That’s as important for their health as yours so that’s good.
Arefa, let’s rethink this. Will adding the 10k step challenge to your schedule for a month get you to your goals?
That question made me shift gears. And it made me ask more questions: Is there any evidence from studies to show that taking 10,000 steps a day really works for people? Do they lose weight? Are they healthier?
Why walk 10,000 steps? When I did some research, I was surprised to find that the 10,000 steps goal didn’t come from scientific world – it came from a brilliant marketing campaign for the Manpo-kei (10,000 steps meter) pedometer sold in Japan back in the 1960s. The campaign started a walking club craze there. Vintage devices are still available on EBay now, 50 years later.
So, is walking 10,000 steps even a legitimate goal? 10,000 steps is about 5 miles – a difficult goal to reach on a daily basis even with regular exercise. No wonder I was frustrated! And it turns out in studies, a lot of people get frustrated. In fact, workplace walking challenges are known for attracting the already physically active employees and sidelining the ones who find 10k steps too lofty a goal.
There is a silver lining, though. When people are given pedometers to measure their steps and given a goal to reach, like 10,000 steps, they do increase their walking. One study showed an increase of about 2000 steps or a mile. And this improvement was associated with a statistically significant, although small, loss in weight and decrease in blood pressure.
What’s key to note is that the 2000-step increase didn’t necessarily get people to the 10,000-step goal. But it did get them health benefits. That extra walking can counter the ill effects of sitting at a desk all day. And increasing physical activity is good for lots of illnesses: obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, prediabetes/diabetes, osteoporosis and depression.
Will I keep tracking my steps? Now that I’m not super-focused on getting to 10k steps, I think I will. Trackers are easy to use, and I love the feedback. Now, there’s no denying when I’ve had a slow moving day again – my pedometer tells me how many steps I walked. And that knowledge gives me power to adjust my schedule. If I can’t get my regular workout into the day, at least I can sneak in a mile here and there and give myself a pat on the back for keeping my goals in mind.