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10,000 Steps to Better Health

Increase the number of steps you take daily to improve overall health

Close up shot of a woman’s running shoes walking down a stone walkway.

by Athena Philis-Tsimikas, MD

There are many reasons why many men and women fail to exercise on a regular basis. Some people find the gym too intimidating or inconvenient, while others simply lack the time or motivation.

However, a recent study suggests that people can simply walk their way to better health.

According to research, people who take 10,000 steps each day are exercising enough to control blood sugar levels, improve blood pressure, enhance cardiovascular health and help prevent weight gain. On the average, a typical office worker takes 3,000 to 5,000 steps a day, meaning people are falling just short of the number needed to achieve optimal health.

Increasing daily steps in simple ways

There are several ways a person can increase the number of steps they take, such as using the stairs whenever possible, getting up from their desk to take a three-minute walk every hour or parking in the furthest parking spot from their destination.

Taking 10,000 steps satisfies the U.S. Surgeon General’s recommendations that people get at least 20 to 30 minutes of moderate physical activity each day. Moderate physical activity raises a person’s heart rate and breathing, but allows them to carry on a conversation.

Depending on a person’s stride, one mile generally equals 2,000 to 2,500 steps, meaning people need to walk about five miles each day.

People who exercise for a minimum of 20 minutes a day in order to improve their health and lifestyle are better at maintaining their fitness than periodic gym-goers. If going to a gym is working for you, keep it up! However, if the gym is intimidating or inconvenient, develop simple, healthy habits such as walking as little as 500 extra steps before lunch.

Getting started with a walking routine

Purchasing expensive equipment to determine how far you have walked is unnecessary. All you need is a pedometer, a small device that measures distance by how many steps you take.

Pedometers are usually worn on a person’s waistband, and centered above the knee. The machines provide instant feedback, are easy to operate, inexpensive and lightweight. People can experiment by using their pedometers during a typical day to see just how many steps they are taking.

Start by wearing the pedometer every day for one week. Put it on when you get up in the morning and wear it until bed time. Record your daily steps in a log or notebook. By the end of the week you will know your average daily steps. You might be surprised how many (or how few) steps you get in each day.

There are many ways to increase your daily steps. Here are some sample ideas:

  • Take a walk with your spouse, child, or friend
  • Walk the dog
  • Use the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Park farther from the store
  • Better yet, walk to the store
  • Get up to change the channel
  • Window shop
  • Plan a walking meeting
  • Walk over to visit a neighbor
  • Get outside to walk around the garden or do a little weeding

Talking with your doctor

If you are in very poor physical condition or at any point you feel that you are progressing too rapidly, slow down a bit and try smaller increases. If you have any health concerns, seek your physician’s advice prior to starting or changing your exercise routine.

This Scripps Health and Wellness tip was provided by Athena Philis-Tsimikas, MD, Whittier Institute for Diabetes.