‘Walking is a man’s best medicine’ – Hippocrates
You’ve no doubt heard that we should all be aiming to walk 10,000 steps every day. But did you know that this figure actually came about from a Japanese advertising slogan, rather than being based on medical science? Honestly – google it!!
The important thing is that we aim to boost our activity levels and increase steps from whatever our base level is, rather than hitting any particular target. My blog is all about the journey, the tiny steps to improving our lives, so we’re not aiming for 10,000 steps right now, although, if you’re already doing that every day then that’s amazing, keep going!
I’m already walking 10,000 steps, is there anything more I should do?
Absolutely! For you the tweak is to add to your current achievement. There are so many options to choose from – walk further, faster, more mindfully, add a weight such as a filled rucksack, pump your arms so you get an upper body workout too, include an incline or some hills to make your muscles work harder. Try varying your walking surface – pavements, sand and grass; not only does this increase the intensity but it also makes it more interesting. You could even try walking sideways like a crab for a couple of minutes which engages the muscles and bones in a different way! Just be prepared for people looking at you a bit strangely!
If your 10,000 steps are as a result of being on your feet all day as part of your job rather than purposefully walking then it’s not a bad idea to add some short power walks each day to maximise the benefits. There’s no such thing as too many stepsl!!
What about me, I don’t walk much at all unless you count the shops?
Well, all steps count so the fact that you are walking whether that is around the supermarket or going for a daily walk in nature doesn’t matter to begin with. The point is to get your legs moving and those steps up!
How would I know if I am doing enough steps?
If you have a fitness tracker or step counter lurking in a drawer somewhere, dig it out and, if you don’t have one, maybe consider buying one. Basic step counters aren’t expensive and they really help. Of course you can spend as much as you like with some of the top models doing all sorts of amazing things! Personally I have a Fitbit watch and it definitely helps to motivate me, particularly as it vibrates every hour if I haven’t done at least 250 steps! If you are in the habit of carrying your phone with you everywhere you go, you could use the step counter on there but remember if you put your phone down, it isn’t counting!
Without a step tracker you won’t be able to count the number of steps, but you could try comparing the amount of time you spend moving with the amount of time you spend sitting down. If you have an active job and you walk to work you are far more likely to be achieving a decent number of steps than someone who works in an office and drives in every day. Remember though that just being active doesn’t necessarily equate to steps. It always surprises me when I spend time gardening, which feels very active, that I don’t actually take many steps. All the bending and stretching is still good exercise but if the name of the game is to increase the number of steps, it doesn’t achieve as much as I would have thought.
At the end of the day our aim is to increase steps so even if you have no idea how many you currently do, you will still gain from adding more!
OK but why should I walk more?
Walking has been proven to:
- Improve fitness
- Increase endurance/stamina
- Help you gain bone and muscle strength
- Prevent weight gain
- Increase weight loss
- Change your body shape
- Improve circulation
- Reduce the risk of certain types of cancer
- Improve posture
- Reduce the number of colds
- Improve cardio health
- Alleviate depression
- Improve mental health
- Boost your mood
- Reduce blood pressure
- Reduce bad cholesterol
- Reduce the risk of Diabetes type 2
- Reduce the risk of a stroke
You might be surprised to see that walking has a beneficial impact on psychological well-being but, in fact, a study by mental health charity Mind found that 90% of the people they surveyed reported an increase in self-esteem after an outdoor walk and 71% said they felt less depressed. So walking, combined with nature, not only helps you maintain a healthy body but also a healthy mind. We’ll come back to the topic of walking for happiness another day.
Plus, walking instead of driving reduces your carbon footprint, helping the environment!
With all those benefits, why wouldn’t we want to increase, or introduce, walking into our life?!
Am I aiming to be able to run eventually?
No, although of course you can if you want to. For some people it might be the long term goal (in which case the Couch to 5K app is well worth checking out) but for many people running is simply not an option. Walking is a low impact exercise so if you are overweight or you suffer from knee, ankle or back problems, walking wins every time.
I already walk for about 20 minutes every day to and from work, is that enough?
It’s a great start, but to really benefit you want to be walking for 30 minutes in one go, five days a week. You could try doing a different route, making each journey 5 minutes longer then gradually add on to the distance until you are walking for 30 minutes. Depending on your activity during the day, this might be all you need to hit the magic 10,000 steps, in which case read the suggestions above for increasing the intensity of your walk for maximum benefit.
I don’t want to go for a daily walk but I’d like to increase my step count. What should I do?
Some simple suggestions are:
- Park in the furthest spot in the supermarket car park. Pushing that loaded trolley on the way back will help build muscle strength too!
- If you are watching TV, get up in every ad break and between programmes and march on the spot
- While you’re waiting for the kettle to boil, pace around the kitchen or up and down the hallway
- Put some music on and dance like there’s no-one watching!
- Try a walking video on YouTube and walk indoors
- Stand in front of a mirror, marching on the spot and really pump those arms. How high can you get your elbows?!
I’d like to try a daily walk but I’m not sure I can fit it in!
If taking 30 minutes for a walk just doesn’t fit in with your schedule at the moment, try these ideas to fit in a little bit more walking to your day:
- Go for a ten minute walk at lunchtime to clear your head and wake you up
- Get off the bus or train a stop earlier and walk the rest of the journey
- Consider whether you really need to take the car and, if you do, park in the furthest possible space everywhere you go
- Instead of meeting your friend for coffee, meet for a walk instead
I think I need to be made accountable otherwise I won’t do it!
There are loads of ideas everywhere you look but just knowing what you could do doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll do it!! Sometimes it’s being made accountable that focuses your mind. Again this is where step counters come into their own. You can track your progress and most of them will prompt you to move every hour. There are also loads of apps you can download which will help you track your steps and your progress. Whichever one you choose though, make sure it is encouraging you to do more, not berating you about what you haven’t done! Guilt trips are most definitely not the way forward in this or anything. Feel good about yourself and your progress!
Another way to be accountable is to buddy up with someone who is at a similar level to you. Go for a walk with them as often as you can and let each other know your step count each day. Just knowing that you are going to be telling someone else how many steps you’ve taken is very likely to mean you’ll try harder to do more!
My walking journey
For me, throughout lockdown, I didn’t achieve anywhere near 10,000 steps most of the time. Some days I was doing well if I hit 4000! I have a largely sedentary 9-5 job and my leisure pursuits mainly involve sitting down. I also have low blood pressure (causing me to faint on occasion), so going for a walk on my own is not always something I feel comfortable doing.
So what I did was to use my Fitbit to set myself step challenges and record them in a daily diary along with any other fitness achievements to track my progress. At the end of each week I add all my steps together and then work out the average for the week. It’s gradually going up and is currently around 6,500 so my tiny tweak is to get up from my desk regularly and march on the spot for a few minutes so I can increase that.
Wherever you are on your walking journey, consider what you can do to make walking work for you, increase your steps and get those health benefits. Whether you’re a complete beginner or you’re used to walking for miles every day, you can make a tiny tweak to boost the number of steps or the intensity of your walk. Change takes time but remember ‘if you always do what you’ve always done, nothing changes’!
Think about all the benefits that walking more will achieve, from improving your figure to boosting your mental health, let alone all the other amazing health benefits. There are no downsides to walking so make this something you will do to improve your life and help you become a happier, healthier version of you!
If you’ve enjoyed reading this, why not let me know what your tweak is in the comments box? We will definitely come back to walking again soon as there is so much more to talk about!
Until next time xx
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