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Want to get fit without going to the gym? Get yourself a fitness tracker and start walking!  These days, everyone seems to be aiming for 10,000 steps a day. It’s a magic number we’re all familiar with, presumably determined by experts after years of research. But that number didn’t come from science. Its origins lie in a Japanese device called a “Manpo-kei”, which translates to “10,000-step meter”. So 10,000 is just a number made up by someone to sell a pedometer!

If you think 10,000 steps is a lot, you’re not alone. According to the Mayo Clinic, the average American walks 3,000 to 4,000 steps a day or roughly 1.5 to 2 miles. That’s a big gap to fill. According to The Calculator Site, a 5’4” woman walking 10,000 steps at a brisk pace (4 miles per hour) would cover about five miles.

Finding the Sweet Spot when it comes to steps

In search of a more evidence-based target, Vitality studied the data from over 600,000 members who recorded their steps between 2017 and 2019. As you would expect, increasing the number of steps decreased mortalities. They found that the sweet spot was between 7,500 and 8,000 steps on average daily steps. After that, increases yielded only marginal returns. When they looked at members aged 65 and older, that number decreased to 6,400.

Of course, mortality rates are only part of the picture. Regardless of how long we live, we all want to be healthy enough to enjoy life. So what does the data say?

South African Vitality members aged 45-65 who went from being unengaged to achieving 10,000 steps three times a week for three years saw a 41% reduction in type 2 diabetes risk and a 36% reduction in their risk of stage 4 cancer. Those who took 10,000 steps five times a week for two years decreased their type 2 diabetes risk by an impressive 57%.

The Mayo Clinic suggests even more benefits. They say that walking regularly can also help reduce your risk of heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and depression. (1)

Not bad for something so simple.

Fitting in More Steps

If you’re looking for some easy ways to get closer to that elusive 10,000 steps, consider these ideas:

  • Walk your dog. If you don’t have a dog, join a friend who’s walking theirs. Or just go for a walk in the park with your friend instead of meeting for coffee.
  • Walk when you take a break. If you’re in an office, spend those precious 15 minutes walking in the parking lot. If you’re staying inside, consider including some stairs. If you work from home, take a stroll down the street or around your backyard.
  • Crank up the music. There’s nothing like dance music to boost your energy levels. If you’re feeling tired or down, or you don’t have time to take a proper break, put on some energizing music and get moving. And if you’re struggling to get yourself walking, the right music can make it something to look forward to.
  • Walk and talk. Do you call your parents or an out-of-town friend on the weekend? Consider going for a walk while you chat. Just make sure you’re safe.
  • Walk further. When you park your car at work or the mall, don’t look for a close spot. If you’re taking the bus or subway, think about changing your stop.
  • Walk instead of driving. If you live near your grocery store (or you’re lucky enough to be within walking distance of a farmer’s market), consider walking there to pick up a few things.
  • Make use of wasted time. If your doctor’s running late, walk around the parking lot while you wait. Do the same with any other appointment. It’s much better for you than reading one of those magazines or scrolling through your phone!
  • Go for a walk or hike in nature. Walking in the woods or with a view of the mountains is so relaxing. And if you have kids, it’s a great way to spend time together and introduce them to the beauty of nature.

Making It a Habit

Going for a walk now and then is nice, but the real benefits come from making it a lasting habit. That’s easier than you might think, as long as you understand how habits work.

Keep It Simple

It seems most of us are unrealistically optimistic about what we can accomplish in the future. Maybe that’s why we’re so happy to put things off! It’s also one of the main reasons we fail when we decide to change our habits.

The key is to start small. Too much intensity too soon makes us more likely to give up. Vitality’s data shows that their members who formed the habit of walking 5,000 steps three times a week maintained that habit 50% longer than those who started exercising with high-intensity workouts. The results also demonstrate that maintaining a small amount of physical activity has lasting health impacts, regardless of age, risk factors, and health status.

You can start by committing to something easy three times a week; make sure it’s something you can stick to. Then add some steps every week for a while. (Vitality members needed 8-15 weeks to establish a new habit, and they tended to give up the habit if they added too much too soon.) After a few months, or whenever your routine feels quite comfortable, consider adding another day (possibly with fewer steps).

You might want to give yourself a reminder to check back in six months and see how you’re feeling.

Enjoy yourself!

It’s important to enjoy your new activity. Some people do that by walking in nature, but you could also invite a friend to walk with you. If no one you know wants to walk with you three times a week, maybe you can find three people who would each join you once a week. Walking with someone is more fun, and you’re more likely to stick to your routine if you’ve made plans with a friend.

If walking doesn’t appeal to you, don’t worry – there are plenty of other ways to improve your health. You could put on your favorite dance tunes and rock out. You could go for a swim, ride a bike, or get busy in the garden. You can add more whole foods to your diet, leaving less room for junk food and sugary desserts.

The important thing is to do something – and do it regularly.

Steph Sterner

Steph Sterner

Steph Sterner is a holistic practitioner and the author of No Guilt, No Games, No Drama and other self-help books. She writes about personal development, why we think and feel the way we do, and the nature of consciousness. You can find her on Medium (@Steph.Sterner) or at


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