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Do You Really Need 10,000 Steps a Day?

The early morning sunlight peeks through the curtains, the birds twitter outside and your sneakers lie by the door, ready for you. The only question is, Will you get up and go?

If the weather’s clear, there’s really no excuse to skip that morning walk, and here’s why. In 2020, we’re spending more time on our screens than ever, and with that behavior comes the health risks of an overly sedentary lifestyle. Maybe you’ve heard that you need to be getting 10,000 steps per day of physical activity, but that’s not entirely accurate (or always realistic). Your focus should be on setting smaller, attainable daily goals, perhaps having a weekly goal of reaching 10,000 steps instead. 

Plan Ahead for Success

From the moment we wake up, the days can quickly get away from us. Making breakfast for the family, taking the car to the mechanic and rushing to answer emails can be obstacles that keep us from reaching our fitness goals. However, your daily physical activity should be in the top three tasks of your to-do list. One of the easiest ways to achieve this is to be active within 10 minutes of waking up — this may mean setting your alarm for 30 minutes earlier, so you can wake up before the kids or work and take a brisk walk around the block. 

When you consider the hours we spend sleeping, eating, commuting and working, we find ourselves with about seven hours when we might be physically active, including strength training with weights or calisthenics. Starting off the day with a walk or a bike ride may be ideal, but if caretaking duties or weather do not allow for either, what are other strategies that work? 

Every Move Counts, Not Only Steps

What do you do all day? If you have an active or semi-active job — nursing, service and trade industries, or at-home parenting where you chase after toddlers for hours — you may end up taking more than 5,000 steps per day. 

It’s helpful to think beyond steps, however. Every swing of your arm or movement in space counts as a “step,” and they start accumulating as soon as you get up in the morning. The more active you are, the more calories you burn, and the higher your heart rate is, then you’re burning more calories as well. If you only have time for a 20-minute spin around the block rather than a 30- to 40-minute stretch, attempt to speed up and raise the intensity of the activity. 

Fitness trackers come with pros and cons, and recent studies are finding that wearable devices overall create more problems than benefits for individuals, such as increased anxiety, according to findings from the University of Copenhagen.

What’s an easy (and cheaper) alternative? My Physical Activity Tracker is a simple worksheet provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that allows you to keep track of your activity without the unhealthy preoccupation, anxiety or guilt that may accompany wearing a wearable device. 

Break Up Your Day

Walking is the easiest way to increase your daily movement and burn more calories. Break up your day into smaller intervals of physical activity: walk .25 mile, walk .50 mile, walk .75 mile or walk one mile. One mile takes about 20 minutes at an average speed of three mph and may get you about 1,500 to 1,600 steps, depending on your stride length. Half a mile may only take about 10 minutes.

Be aware of opportunities to be more active throughout the day. Need to have a brainstorm phone call with a work colleague, or catch up with a relative? Talk on the phone and walk, whether around the house or the yard, or maybe even around the block. If you’re on a conference call and can turn off your video, swing your arms or do leg lifts. Rather than order delivery for groceries or take out, stop by stores and restaurants in off hours. This way you’re getting in the activity and steps you might benefit from by walking to and from the parking lot and around the store, lifting bags and maintaining your strength. Remember, every movement counts!


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The Orlando Health National Training Center, on the campus of Orlando Health South Lake Hospital, provides comprehensive wellness programs, events and training services to support our community and athletes in their achievement for health and performance excellence.

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