Get-Fit Guy decided to take 15,000 steps a day to see what he could learn about the movement superfood known as walking. Here's what his walking adventure revealed!
First off, I know. There's actually an older Get-Fit Guy episode and article on whether you really should self quantify your fitness goals. It mentions the value of sometimes just unplugging and ignoring the dizzying and often enjoyment-minimizing host of calorie- and step-counting apps and wearable fitness trackers.
At the same time, I have also been known to wear an Apple Watch and I have used and written about a device called a Whoop that tracks a fair share of self-quantification variables, including sleep, heart rate, distance, speed, heart rate variability, and more. Aside from that, one of the easiest numbers I’ve been tracking for a while now is (as boring as it may sound) the number of steps I take each day.
So, what have I learned by counting steps? And how many steps have I been striving to take each day? You’re about to find out.
Research on 10,000 steps per day
Let’s start with a quick history lesson. I mentioned this in my article about whether 10,000 really is a magical number of steps: While fitness tracker manufacturers like Fitbit and Garmin might very well be responsible for the current 10,000-step fixation, the hype actually started in Japan back in 1965. Dr. Yoshiro Hatano, who worked for a company called Yamesa, invented a pedometer. The device was named Manpo-kei, which translates to "10,000-step meter" in English.
Now, lest I throw poor Dr. Hatano under the bus for starting a somewhat misleading craze, let me say this: I'm sure he wasn’t trying to perpetrate the greatest hoax ever pulled on the fitness community. Marketing is marketing, and the device needed a name that would stick. Mission accomplished!
Interestingly, legend has it that this “magic” number was specifically selected after research revealed that men who burn at least 2,000 calories per week by exercising have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. That breaks down to approximately 300 calories burned per day, which most people can achieve by taking—you guessed it—10,000 steps. That's equivelant to about five miles or eight kilometers.
Since that initial research, there have been plenty of other studies showing that 10,000 steps a day can help your overall health. There are over 300 peer-reviewed articles with a focus on the 10,000 steps per day protocol. Along with that, walking for general health has been studied thoroughly. Here are just a few of my favourite benefits:
- Healthy adult males who walk briskly experience lower resting blood pressure and postprandial triglycerides.
- Kids who walk to school are fitter overall than peers who do not.
- Walking improves longevity in women over 70.
- Older healthy adults who walk briskly live longer than those who don’t.
- Regular walking improves working memory in older adults.
- Walking programs improve cognitive ability in Alzheimer’s patients.
Now you may be thinking "Brock, if you simply wanted to get more steps in your day, why not just run instead?" Well, walking has the added benefit of having a lower risk of injury than higher-impact activities like running. Plus, you can walk all year long in all kinds of conditions and weather. (Trust me, I live in the Great White North.)
How many steps I take per day
Because I use a standing workstation, I constantly partake in movement snacks throughout the day. I also dedicate at least thirty minutes per day to exercise. I’ve personally found that 10,000 steps per day is almost “too easy” for me. Not to brag or anything, but I'm quite a good walker. I've even taken an online walking class to get better at it!
At the same time, I really have to work quite hard and be moving nearly the entire day at a veritable trot to reach 20,000 steps per day. (That’s over 10 miles or 16 km!).
So, through a combination of pure self-experimentation and natural daily movement patterns, I’ve discovered that about 15,000 steps per day seems to be my sweet spot. Along the way, I’ve learned four valuable lessons.
4 lessons learned from walking 15,000 steps per day
Box breathing makes walking into meditation
Meditation and breathwork are a current fitness craze that I enjoy. And yet, I often find that I simply don’t have the time (or the desire to make the time) to sit for 20 to 30 minutes of silent meditation.
But I can turn walking into a form of moving meditation! When I take a 20- to 30-minute walk each day, I engage in something called "box breathing." It’s simple, relaxing, and gives me the same sort of good feelings that sedentary meditation does. Here’s how it works:
- Breathe in for four steps.
- Hold your breathe lightly for the next four steps.
- Breathe out slowly for four steps.
- Hold your breathe lightly for the next four steps.
That’s it! You can simply visualize breathing up the side of a box, across the top of that box, down the box, and across the bottom of the box—hence, box breathing.
Every little movement counts
As I discuss in the episode about The Easiest Way to Get Fit, general movement throughout the day can really add up. On a normal day, when I’m at home in my office, I follow all of the “grease-the-groove” rules.
I can far more easily achieve my goal of 15,000 steps per day with these little movements thrown in.
That could look like performing 50 jumping jacks for every hour I sit, doing five pull-ups every time I pass the bar I have in my doorway, using a dynamic work environment, pacing when I chat on the phone, or even doing 20 air squats every time I use the bathroom. I’ve found that I can far more easily achieve my goal of 15,000 steps per day with these little movements thrown in.
It's better barefoot
I’ve found that when I'm on my feet all day—standing, walking, moving, pacing, squatting, and doing my meditation walks—I tend to get sore and tight feeling feet. I also get quite a bit of blood pooling in the feet, calves, and lower extremities. Because of this, I find that my feet fare a lot better when I am not wearing restrictive shoes.
Think of it this way: 25% of the bones, muscles, and ligaments in your body exist from the ankle down. If they're not allowed to do their job because they're being propped up or otherwise restricted by tight and inflexible shoes, that can lead to issues.
When I can't be barefoot (for safety reasons), as the founder of the VivoBarefoot shoes advised me during a past podcast episode, I wear shoes that are WTF—wide, thin, and flat. So if you plan on having a lofty step goal, use better living through science. Invest in good WTF shoes and look after your lower extremities (which, incidentally, will also lower the risk of back, neck, and hip pain).
You can multitask
Walking is the perfect time to make phone calls, dictate ideas into your phone, solve big problems, and more.
During my 15,000 step experiment, I called my mum way more often than I have in the last few years. And I'm so happy I did! But you can go beyond calling a loved one. I also sent brainstorming voicemails to my Weighless business partner, Monica Reinagel (the Nutrition Diva), and worked through some business ideas with my Successfulist friend Dean Dwyer. I have also dictated, using my phone's voice-to-text feature, general outlines of the last few episodes of this podcast.
Remember that even a little walking is beneficial.
Of course, walking is also a great time to run errands, pick up groceries, drop things off for friends, or go to the post office. You get the idea! Basically, instead of taking time out of a busy day to "go for a walk," I use that walking time to get stuff done!
Start at your own pace and distance and only walk in manageable increments, even if that means you walk for just a few minutes a few times a day. As your fitness and stamina grow, you can gradually increase both the length and intensity (or speed) of your walking adventures.
Remember that even a little walking is beneficial; you don't have to do 15,000 steps! So no more excuses—go for a walk already.