It’s not what you might expect.
Before I started working from home full-time, I never cared about how many steps I walked each day.
When I was young, I was an active child who loved running around at recess and playing outside with my two sisters after school. Even when I headed off to college, I walked around a huge division one campus daily, and I logged plenty of steps as a member of my university’s cross-country, indoor track, and outdoor track programs.
The point is, I never had issues staying active. That is, until one year ago. I graduated from college in December of 2019. Soon after the start of the new year, I began working full-time from home.
With the onset of the pandemic, I started making very few trips into town. Even now, I only go out when absolutely necessary to pick up groceries or ship out packages for my online reselling business.
A month or so into 2020, I quickly realized that my 30 minute jog each day wasn’t cutting it. I grew tired of sitting in the same position for hours on end, staring endlessly at the computer screen in front of me until my eyes started to hurt. When I finally did get up to grab lunch or take a break, I felt like the tin man in need of a good oiling.
So, I decided to start walking for five minutes every hour or so. When the weather was nice, I went outside my house. Even right now with the brutal winter weather, I do five minutes of laps around my kitchen and living room.
This habit keeps me moving, prevents me from getting stiff, and helps me recharge my brain in between periods of highly focused and productive work. It also made me wonder about the minimum daily step count for optimal health, so I decided to dive into the research. Here’s what I found.
Here’s the typical adult’s step count.
If you had to guess the average American’s step count, you would probably overestimate it. This is because the average adult takes only about 3,000–5,000 steps per day. Before I started walking, I typically only got about 5,000 steps each day with my work from home lifestyle and a 25–30 minute daily jog.
Now, this might seem like a lot of steps, but it really isn’t. In fact, 5,000 steps comes out to about 2.5 miles, which is half what is recommended to boost a number of key health factors.
5,000 steps per day is better than nothing, but it basically puts you in the inactive category, which is divided up as follows:
- Inactive: less than 5,000 steps per day
- Average (somewhat active): ranges from 7,500 to 9,999 steps per day
- Very active: more than 12,500 steps per day
Now, this might make it seem like you need 12,500 steps per day for optimal health, but that actually isn’t the recommended minimum.
You want to hit these numbers.
“If you have an average length stride (2.5 feet/stride), then 10,000 steps is approximately 5 miles.”
Therefore, the minimum recommendation is really 10,000 steps, which equates to about 5 miles. This number is cited because it has been shown to:
“help you achieve health benefits such as improved heart fitness, blood pressure and cholesterol.”
Interestingly, as you age, that daily minimum actually decreases. Harvard Health states:
“Researchers found that in older women, taking as few as 4,400 steps per day was associated with a 41% lower risk of dying during the study period when compared with women who walked 2,500 steps a day or fewer. In addition, it didn’t seem to matter if the women took those steps power walking or just moving around the house.
“For those who can get to 10,000 steps per day, that’s fantastic. But the idea that older women can see health benefits with a more modest number of steps was a welcome surprise.”
Therefore, while the 10,000 recommended minimum is an ideal goal for people to shoot for, the evidence is clear that any extra movement is better than a completely sedentary lifestyle in terms of overall health.
Here’s how you can boost your step count.
The 10,000 step per day goal may seem daunting, but there are a number of strategies you can use to easily reach that goal.
The two methods I use are to take a break for a 5 minute walk every hour or so, and run for 25–30 minutes daily. I also wear a GPS watch which tracks my steps daily so I know where I am at in terms of step count. UC Davis provides the following effective practices:
- Walk your dog
- Take the stairs
- Walk during your lunch break, morning break, and afternoon break
- Walk during TV commercials
- Take out your trash a few times each day
- Park your car further away from your destination (or further out in the parking lot)
- Wear an activity tracker to better understand your daily step count
I do think it is worth noting that the last one might not be a positive strategy for all individuals. If knowing your exact step count causes stress or negative emotions, it might be best to just focus on moving your body regularly in a way that feels good, and ignore the numbers.
Peoples’ lifestyles have become easier as a result of technological advancements, but this convenient lifestyle has not come without a cost.
When I entered the professional workforce, I found that I was more sedentary than ever before. So, I made a few key changes which have helped me feel more energized, become more productive and efficient, and will boost my long term health.
If you feel that your lifestyle is too sedentary right now, it’s never too late to make a change. Adopt a few of the strategies shared, and you’ll be well on your way to improved health and happiness.