Walking is one of the most innate human activities. Before cars, before the Metro, before horses, camels, etc., humans walked. In many places around the world, walking is still a primary mode of transportation. Yet Americans, as a whole, are unnaturally sedentary.
The health community typically recommends that people walk about 10,000 steps per day for general health. Anything below 5,000 steps per day is considered sedentary. Americans average 5,117. It’s not that walking is impossible in a modern world; similarly industrialized countries clock in at 9,695 (Australia), 9,650 (Switzerland), and 7,168 (Japan).
10,000 steps is equal to about five miles. Adding a five-mile walk into your schedule each day may seem like a significant commitment, but keep in mind that the steps are cumulative- every step you take throughout the day is counted, whether or not they’re all at the same time. It’s actually healthier to break up your steps throughout the day rather than getting them all at once. The human body isn’t designed to sit still for hours at a time, and it’s good for your circulation, joints, muscles, and mental clarity to get up and move around as often as you can. However, many people who work office jobs find that they need to deliberately “take a walk” in order to meet the 10,000 step guideline.
Try these strategies to build more walking into your daily life:
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Walk to stores, restaurants, or friends’ homes instead of driving.
- Park at the edge of the parking lot and walk.
- Get off public transit one stop early and walk the rest of the way.
- Have a phone call scheduled with a far-away friend? Take a walk while you talk.
- Invite a friend or family member to take a walk with you as a way to spend quality time together.
- Visit local parks and enjoy the trails, or do a historic landmark walking tour (information on historic walking tours in Madison, Wisconsin available here).
There’s science behind the health guideline of 10,000 steps per day. Walking 10,000 steps most days has tons of physical and mental health benefits (duh!):
- Burns body fat
- Strengthens legs, hips, and torso muscles
- Increases energy, reduces issues of fatigue
- Promotes intestinal regularity
- Strengthens heart and increases circulation
- Reduces stiffness in joints, and improves posture and flexibility
- Improves mental alertness, memory, creativity, and problem solving
- Elevates mood and helps relieve stress
- Helps with sleep apnea and insomnia
The easiest way to measure the amount of walking you get each day is with a pedometer. This model has a slim design that fits into pants pockets or waistbands. The Fitbit line is a bit more expensive but has more tracking capabilities and syncs with your smartphone, which is a plus.
The iPhone also has an accurate and battery-efficient pedometer technology, although you’ll have to install a pedometer app (many available for free) and keep your phone with you whenever you move. Other iPhone and Android models also have pedometer capacity, but use more battery. Some pedometer apps allow you to set goals and compare your steps with other users, which is helpful if tracking and competition motivate you.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao TzuLearn more: The Benefits of Physical Activity (Harvard School of Public Health) The Pedometer Test: Americans Take Fewer Steps (The New York Times) 30 Ways to Stop Sitting Still