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There have been a million fitness apps sold on the premise that you need to take 10k steps per day. We’ve all heard it, possibly tried, even exceeded it. But is it true?

Do you really need to walk that far every day? How does it benefit our health? What if you find that impossible to do?

If you are physically able to walk the benefits are many. Cardio and muscle strength development, weight bearing for building bones, maintaining mobility, mental health improvements. Even short walks in the outdoors can improve our health through the absorption of Vitamin D from sunlight for stronger bones, especially if done before midday.

So, why 10K steps?

Because a Japanese marketer in 1964 chose it as a random number in order to promote a pedometer ahead of the Tokyo Olympics and it has gone down into folklore.

Aiming for 10k steps per day seems to be the pinnacle. Some people in more active roles can achieve this and more. However, so many of us are desk based during the day and taking 10K steps actually takes quite a long time. It’s about 5 miles (8Km) distance which can seem very daunting. 1000 steps take about 10 minutes for most people.

Want the good news?

New research published in October 2023 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggests that you begin to receive benefits even at 2500 – 2700 steps, giving you up to 11% reduction in cardiovascular disease risk, and the sweet spot is around 7000 – 8800. At this stage, you are reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease by 51% if you do it regularly.

7000 sounds much more reasonable, doesn’t it?

Of course, if 10k steps a day are normal for you there’s no need to stop. There’s no harm in doing this. It’s simply that there are diminishing returns after the first 7k or so.

But, if you have been feeling demotivated by your inability to reach the magic 10k, there is now hope.

It’s not just about the number of steps either. It’s also about the intensity. If you can make the most of the steps you do take, then you are making even more progress towards improved health in the same amount of time.

How can you incorporate 7000 steps into your day?

Use what you have – deliberately walk up and down stairs several times, take the long way round, take phone calls standing up and moving.

Use work breaks to get up and move around. Systems such as the Pomodoro technique where you are working in deep focus for 25 minutes and then taking a 5-minute break are useful when you make that break active.

3 x 10 minutes per day of brisk walking has a big effect on cardiovascular health.

Keep track with a fitness app

Focus on everyday activity rather than just steps. Put the TV remote on the other side of the room so that you have to get up to change channel. Always be the one to offer to make the drinks, forcing you to walk to the kitchen or café.

It’s not just about the number of steps, we need to up the intensity too.

Walk the same distance in a quicker time. You can add interval training – pick a point up ahead and time yourself to walk there. Then walk back to the start faster. Repeat 4-6 times, aiming for a slight increase in speed each time (a second or 2)

Carry weights – holding small hand weights or water bottles, putting on a heavy backpack, even ankle weights will all increase the intensity of your muscular and cardio efforts.

Extend the length of a walk and do it in the same time as the shorter distance.

Getting your steps in doesn’t have to take a long time and can easily be incorporated into your day. Make sure you feel your heart rate rising a little as you walk – brisk rather than strolling. Try adding an extra 10 minutes of walking per week and gradually increase your total steps.

Before long you will be reaping the benefits.

If you’d like more tips on how to incorporate healthier actions into your life without taking up all your time,  sign up to my Simply Thriving newsletter.